Churches, including Langley’s Riverside Calvary Church, are challenging the regulations barring them from holding in-person worship services during COVID-19. (Langley Advance Times file)

Churches, including Langley’s Riverside Calvary Church, are challenging the regulations barring them from holding in-person worship services during COVID-19. (Langley Advance Times file)

COVID-19: B.C. churches in court to attempt to overturn ban on in-person services

A judge will hear arguments Monday through Wednesday

The lawyer representing B.C. churches that have continued to hold services in violation of health orders said that the rules were over-broad, arbitrary, and disproportionate in a hearing Monday in B.C. Supreme Court.

A lawyer for the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms is representing a group of churches and individuals, claiming that some of B.C.’s public health orders barring many gatherings are unconstitutional.

“Who are you saying is being discriminated against?” B.C. Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson asked as lawyer Paul Jaffe argued.

Jaffe replied that churches are subject to a different standard than other, secular gatherings. Later in the proceedings, he explicitly said that retail stores, schools, and pubs are allowed to have people in them but the moment a gathering becomes worship, it’s suddenly more dangerous.

“It’s entirely arbitrary,” Jaffe argued.

But Hinkson pushed back on some of Jaffe’s arguments later in the morning, asking whether the courts were equipped to rule on Dr. Bonnie Henry’s expertise as the province’s chief medical health officer.

“She recognizes the Charter must be applied,” Hinkson said. “She says, bearing that in mind, I think from a public health interest, only certain things can happen. Now, what’s wrong with that from a correctness standard?”

Jaffe continued to argue that there was an arbitrariness between the way the health orders were being applied to religious and secular gatherings.

“What business does this court have telling Dr. Henry how to make decisions about public health?” Hinkson asked.

The judge also noted that the change in policy in November that shut down in-person church services was not an “on-off switch.”

Churches can still hold virtual meetings, Hinkson noted, just as the court hearing was being held virtually.

He also questioned Jaffe about the lack of evidence of transmission of the virus in churches.

“If the churches have not been operating, the vast majority of them, how could there be evidence their operation is creating problems?” Hinkson said.

The churches can show there was minimal risk before the November shutdown, Jaffe said.

Also involved in the petition are a few people who were ticketed for holding outdoor protests in B.C., although the rules have now been changed to accommodate outdoor protests.

Jaffe and lawyers representing the B.C. Attorney General and Henry have already clashed in front of Hinkson, when in March the government sought an injunction to block or even arrest people from attending the services.

Hinkson rejected the government’s request, saying the health authorities and police had enforcement powers they hadn’t even used yet, and therefore the courts had no need to issue an injunction.

So far, police have issued tickets but prosecutors have not announced more serious charges against the churches.

READ MORE: No injunction against Fraser Valley churches holding services in violation of health orders

Last week, the government offered a limited in-person outdoor attendance option to the churches, but Jaffe said it didn’t go far enough.

It would allow outdoor services of no more than 25 members, with no singing, mandatory masks and no socializing after services, something Jaffe said was less than the churches were allowed during a brief period during the pandemic when in-person worship was allowed.

READ MORE: BC’s compromise on in person worship at three churches called ‘absolutely unacceptable’

– More to come

BC Supreme CourtCoronavirusLangleyReligion

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

Just Posted

Restaurant patrons enjoy the weather on a patio in Vancouver, B.C., Monday, April 5, 2021. The province has suspended indoor dining at restaurants and pubs until at least April 19 in B.C. due to a spike in COVID-19 numbers. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. sets new COVID-19 daily record with 1,293 cases Thursday

New order allows workplace closures when infections found

The new 3,500 hectare conservancy in Tahltan territory is located next to Mount Edziza Provincial Park. (BC Parks Photo)
New conservancy protects sacred Tahltan land near Mount Edziza Provincial Park

Project is a collaboration between Skeena Resources, conservation groups and the TCG

Mabel Todd, 83, of the Nak’azdli First Nation, leads a group of family members and advocates of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls as they walk along the so-called Highway of Tears in Moricetown, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Province, feds fund full cell service along ‘Highway of Tears’ following years of advocacy

A ‘critical milestone in helping prevent future tragedies’ after at least 10 Indigenous women murdered, missing along the route

Erin O’Toole, Conservative Party of Canada leader, answered questions during a Terrace District Chamber of Commerce event on April 6, 2021. (Screenshot/Terrace District Chamber of Commerce Facebook)
Erin O’Toole discusses Terrace issues during virtual event

Federal Conservative leader answered questions during a Terrace & District Chamber of Commerce event

Tree; Burns Lake library. (Laura Blackwell photo/Lakes District News)
Dragon Tree christened

The Burns Lake Public Library contest for dragon and tree names has… Continue reading

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan describe vaccine rollout at the legislature, March 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
1,262 more COVID-19 infections in B.C. Friday, 9,574 active cases

Province’s mass vaccination reaches one million people

As of Saturday, April 10, people born in 1961 are the latest to be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine. (Black Press files)
B.C. residents age 60+ can now register to get their COVID-19 vaccine

Vaccine registration is now open to people born in 1961 or earlier

A new saline gargle test, made in B.C., will soon be replacing COVID-19 nasal swab tests for kids. (PHSA screenshot)
Take-home COVID-19 tests available for some B.C. students who fall ill at school

BC Children’s Hospital plans to provide 1,200 kits to Vancouver district schools this April

Ruming Jiang and his dog Chiu Chiu are doing fine following a brush with hypothermia that saw several people work together to get them out of the Fraser River near Langley’s Derby Reach Park on March 25, 2021 (Special to the Advance Times)
Man finds men who rescued him from drowning in B.C.’s Fraser River

A grateful Ruming Jiang says he will thank them again, this time in person when the pandemic ends

Tyson Ginter, 7, is proud of his latest Hot Wheels he recently received by Quesnel RCMP Const. Matt Joyce. (Photo submitted)
B.C. Mountie handing out toy cars to light up children’s faces

‘A lot of times it will be the only interaction they have with the police,’ says Const. Matt Joyce

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam speaks during a technical briefing on the COVID pandemic in Canada, Friday, January 15, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s ICUs see near-record of COVID-19 patients last week as variant cases double

Last week, Canadian hospitals treated an average of 2,500 patients with COVID-19, daily, up 7% from the previous week

University of Victoria rowing coach Barney Williams at the University of Victoria in Victoria, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
UVic, women’s rowing coach deny former athlete’s allegation of verbal abuse

Lily Copeland alleges coach Barney Williams would stand close to her and speak aggressively in the sauna

Librarian Katie Burns with the Fraser Valley Regional Libraries poses for a photo in Chilliwack on June 18, 2019. Monday, April 12, 2021 is Library Workers’ Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of April 11 to 17

Library Workers Day, That Sucks! Day, and Wear Your Pyjamas to Work Day are all coming up this week

Most Read