Supporters rally outside court as Pastor James Coates of GraceLife Church is in court to appeal bail conditions, after he was arrested for holding day services in violation of COVID-19 rules, in Edmonton, Alta., on Thursday March 4, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

Supporters rally outside court as Pastor James Coates of GraceLife Church is in court to appeal bail conditions, after he was arrested for holding day services in violation of COVID-19 rules, in Edmonton, Alta., on Thursday March 4, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

‘Law remains valid:’ Pastor accused of violating health orders to remain in jail

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms is representing the pastor

A judge has ruled that an Alberta pastor will remain in jail until his trial this spring because religious beliefs are not above public health orders.

James Coates with GraceLife Church, west of Edmonton, has been in jail for more than two weeks and was appealing his bail conditions.

Coates is charged with violating Alberta’s Public Health Act and with breaking a promise to abide by conditions of his bail release, which is covered under the Criminal Code.

GraceLife Church has been holding services that officials say break public-health orders on attendance, masking and distancing.

Queen’s Bench Justice Peter Michalyshyn said in his decision Friday that public health laws remain valid and the pastor will stay in jail for eight more weeks until his trial begins in May.

“The law that Mr. Coates clearly intends not to be bound by remains valid and enforceable against him. Mr. Coates’s strongly held religious beliefs and convictions do not overcome those valid and enforceable laws,” Michalyshyn said.

Coates has said his religious convictions mean he cannot abide by a bail condition that he not conduct services.

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms is representing the pastor and said in a news release that it was disappointed with the judge’s decision.

“Pastor Coates is a peaceful Christian minister,” said centre president John Carpay.

“He should never have been required to violate his conscience and effectively stop pastoring his church as a condition to be released. Charter freedoms do not disappear because the government declares regular church services to be outlawed while allowing hundreds of people to fill their local Walmarts.”

Coates’s lawyer, James Kitchen, told the judge on Thursday that a determination on whether Coates’s charter rights are being violated should be made before he is jailed.

“We are putting the cart before the horse, doing things backwards. This is a matter of deep, deep personal conscience and personal beliefs. He is compelled to obey the God he loves … as are his congregants.”

The public-health prosecutor, who asked the court to address her only by her title because she is concerned for her safety, argued that the pastor’s release is a danger to the public.

The judge noted that Coates did not want the publication ban that is normally imposed on bail hearings.

The church has continued to hold weekend services, even though Coates is in custody. Many gathered for a service last Sunday, as RCMP and Alberta Health Services monitored the situation.

“Observations were again made that the church held a service beyond the designated capacity,” the Mounties said in a news release.

In an affidavit, Coates’s wife Erin Coates told the judge that since he was taken into custody at the Edmonton Remand Centre, he has lost weight and can’t sit for too long because of pain in his neck.

“The days since February 16 have been very stressful for our two sons, aged 11 and 18,” she said.

“Many congregants of GraceLife rely on James for counselling regarding marriages and personal problems such as addictions. I have observed that many children at GraceLife Church are heartbroken that James is in jail. They are confused and concerned about him.”

More than 50 people were gathered outside the Edmonton courthouse on Thursday and prayed for Coates. Some held a banner that read #freejamescoates. The judge noted that dozens of others had tuned into the bail hearing online as well.

Police fined the church $1,200 in December and a closure order was issued in January.

Coates had been addressing the province’s health restrictions in his sermons. He told worshippers that governments exist as instruments of God and there should be unfettered freedom of worship.

Fakiha Baig, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The volume of visitors to White Rock’s Marine Drive over the weekend has led council to consider special measures this week. (Aaron Hinks photo)
White Rock council rejects resident-only parking for waterfront

Other health and safety measures to be considered in a special meeting Wednesday

South Surrey’s Paul Cottrell, who works with the DFO, tows a grey whale out of Semiahmoo Bay Sunday. (Contributed photo)
Dead whale floating near White Rock towed to shore for necropsy

Animal has been dead since at least April 15

Vehicles line up for the Greater Vancouver Drive-Thru Food Truck Festival at the Chilliwack Coliseum parking lot on March 27. The touring event comes to Cloverdale this weekend, April 24-25 (Photo: Jenna Hauck/Chilliwack Progress)
Here are the food trucks coming to Cloverdale for a drive-thru festival this weekend

Nine trucks will be parked Saturday, nine Sunday during event at fairgrounds

Pharmacist Barbara Violo arranges all the empty vials of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines that she has provided to customers at the Junction Chemist which is a independent pharmacy during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto, on Monday, April 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Parts of Surrey, North Delta to get AstraZeneca vaccines for people ages 40+

A total of seven communities in Surrey and Delta will be targeted

The Braidwood Band performs for the seniors at Zion Park Manor in Surrey, as part of a music program planned by Rick’s Heart Foundation. (submitted photo)
VIDEO: Surrey charity brings distanced concerts to care homes, with prop pink firetruck

Familiar tunes performed for seniors during pandemic-era ‘Heart for Music’ program

In this image from NASA, NASA’s experimental Mars helicopter Ingenuity lands on the surface of Mars Monday, April 19, 2021. The little 4-pound helicopter rose from the dusty red surface into the thin Martian air Monday, achieving the first powered, controlled flight on another planet. (NASA via AP)
VIDEO: NASA’s Mars helicopter takes flight, 1st for another planet

The $85 million helicopter demo was considered high risk, yet high reward

Dr. Bonnie Henry gives her daily media briefing regarding Covid-19 for the province of British Columbia in Victoria, B.C, Monday, December 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Toddler marks youngest British Columbian to die related to COVID-19

Child one of eight people to die from virus this weekend

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Families of two of three workers killed in a train derailment near Field, B.C., in 2019 have filed lawsuits accusing Canadian Pacific of gross negligence. The derailment sent 99 grain cars and two locomotives off the tracks. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Families of workers killed in Field train derailment allege negligence in lawsuit

Lawsuits allege the workers weren’t provided a safe work environment

(New Westminster Police)
4 youth arrested after 30-person brawl in New Westminster leaves 1 seriously injured

Police are looking for witnesses who saw the incident take place

Sunday’s storm rocked one of the ferries crossing Kootenay Lake. Photo: Dirk Jonker
VIDEO: Storm makes for wild ferry ride across Kootenay Lake

The video was captured by ferry employee Dirk Jonker

Chakalaka Bar & Grill remains open in defiance of orders from Island Health to close. (Cole Schisler photo)
B.C. health authority seeks injunction against restaurant defying COVID-19 orders

Chakalaka Bar and Grill plans to continue serving customers without public health compliance

The Abbotsford Centre has the ability to host AHL level games if the Vancouver Canucks or any other NHL team chose to move its affiliate to the arena. (File photo)
Abbotsford Centre ready for AHL if right opportunity presents itself

Building recently upgraded glass and boards, schedule would allow for AHL tenant

Most Read