Riverside Calvary Church in Walnut Grove. (Langley Advance Times file)

Riverside Calvary Church in Walnut Grove. (Langley Advance Times file)

B.C. is ‘stereotyping’ churches as riskier for COVID than other spaces, lawyer argues

Judge said that freedom of expression, religion are not at issue in the case

A lawyer representing churches in their battle to fight B.C.’s COVID restrictions on in-person worship took aim at the province Tuesday (March 2), arguing that officials are singling out churches as being more dangerous than other spaces.

“Gatherings of people don’t become more risky based on the subject of discussion,” argued Paul Jaffe in B.C. Supreme Court. He pointed to bars, restaurants and stores that remain open, while in-person church services have been banned since November. Religious institutions themselves remain open for solo visits.

The three-day trial, expected to end Wednesday, is being brought by the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, which represents a group of church and individuals in the province.

Jaffe said that a very small number of cases have been connected to religious settings, citing churches that have taken similar safety measures as establishments that are allowed to remain operate.

That, Jaffe, argued, limits freedom of expression.

“You don’t target people based on what they’re saying,” he said.

But B.C. Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson said that freedom of expression and religious freedom aren’t what is at issue in this case in his eyes.

“They’re free to have whatever religious views they wish,” Hinkson said. “No one is saying they’re not allowed to express their views.”

However, lawyer Gareth Morley, who works for the legal services branch of the Attorney General Ministry, said that comparable activities in religious settings are allowed to continue, including faith-based schools, Sunday school and limited religious marriage ceremonies.

Jaffe argued that the form of expression was also important. He said that while virtual church services exist for congregants, in-person gatherings are “absolutely integral to their faith” and that “it’s very painful to these people” to be separated from in-person worship services.

Morley said it is agreed that the province is in the middle of a pandemic.

“And measures taken to protect public health, to protect lives, to protect people from serious illness, and to protect the ability of the health-care system itself to respond, that those are the sorts of measures that can limit charter rights, including freedom of religion.”

Henry has a duty under the Constitution to “proportionally and reasonably” limit freedoms by preventing the gathering of people to ensure their health and safety, Morley said.

Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson asked who decides whether the limits are proportional or reasonable, adding that he wants to understand how the provincial health officer is making her decisions.

“Aren’t the churches entitled to know why if you go to the bar and watch a hockey game for an hour or two, you can’t sit in a church for an hour or two? It is a point I struggle with.”

Hinkson said he understands Henry has a difficult job, but she hasn’t explained why or how she is making the decisions.

“If she chooses not to share her thought process with the court, there’s no oversight,” he said.

Morley said the decisions are made after careful review by health officials and experts.

So balancing religious rights and protecting people from an “out-of-control epidemic” is a matter of judgment, he said, adding that Henry met with religious leaders and health officials while making her decisions.

READ MORE: B.C. churches in court to attempt to overturn ban on in-person services

– with files from The Canadian Press


@katslepian

katya.slepian@bpdigital.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Coronavirus

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

Erin O’Toole. (Image via flickr)
O’Toole to chat with Cloverdale Chamber

Q&A is a ‘nooner’ and will run from 12 to 12:45 pm.

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

A man has died after being shot at Coquitlam’s Town Centre Park the evening of Monday, April 19. (Twitter/IHIT)
1 man dead after shooting at Coquitlam park: IHIT

The gunman is still at large, according to the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team

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

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

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

Most Read