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

A Keremeos family lost their home after a fire shortly before midnight on April 13. No injuries were reported. (Contributed)
Keremeos home destroyed in late-night fire

The family inside was unharmed

An Interior Health nurse administers Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines to seniors and care aids in Kelowna on Tuesday, March 16, 2021. (Phil McLachlan/Kelowna Capital News)
105 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health

Just over 8,000 new vaccine doses administered in the region for a total of 158,000 to date

Bad Tattoo owner Lee Auger and head brewmaster Liam Hutcheson welcomed Firehall Brewery owner Syd Ruhland into their brew-room to make a massive batch of his hit Backdraft Blonde Ale Tuesday, April 2021. (Firehall Brewery / Facebook)
Drinking buddies: Penticton brewery steps up to help out smaller competitor

Firehall Brewery of Oliver needed larger equipment to meet demand; Bad Tattoo was happy to help

Campfires are allowed within the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen, but open burning season comes to an end April 15 at midnight. (Black Press file photo)
Open burning season ends in Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen

Campfires are permitted, following provincial guidelines

Send your letter to the editor via email to news@summerlandreview.com. Please included your first and last name, address, and phone number.
LETTER: Name is spelled incorrectly

For 100 years, the Garnett name has been spelled incorrectly as Garnet

Arlene Howe holds up a picture of her son, Steven, at a memorial event for drug overdose victims and their families at Kelowna’s Rotary Beach Park on April 14. Steven died of an overdose at the age of 32 on Jan. 31, 2015. (Aaron Hemens - Kelowna Capital News)
Moms Stop the Harm members placed crosses Wednesday morning, April 14, on Rotary Beach in memory of children lost to drug overdoses. (Aaron Hemens - Capital News)
Kelowna mothers remember children lost to the opioid crisis

It has been five years since illicit drug deaths was announced a public health emergency

Rendering of the community and cultural centre planned to be built on the site of the former residential school building in Lower Post. (Screenshot/Province of BC YouTube channel)
Lower Post residential school building to be demolished, replaced with cultural centre

Project to be funded by federal and provincial governments, Daylu Dena Council

The yearling appeared to have suffered a broken back. ( Photo contributed by photographer Jill Hayward)
Police forced to euthanize deer attacked by dog

Animal’s owner receives $345 ticket

Vancouver police say eight people were arrested Wednesday after anti-pipeline protesters blocked off both the entrances and exits to two buildings in the downtown core. (Instagram/Qtcatspictureclub)
8 people arrested after anti-pipeline protestors chain themselves to Vancouver buildings

Cst. Tania Visintin said demonstrators caused ‘a serious safety hazard’ downtown for hours Wednesday

Weekly COVID-19 cases in the North Okanagan-Shuswap saw increases for the Vernon and Salmon Arm health areas during the week of April 4 to 10. (BC Centre for Disease Control image)
COVID-19 cases rise in North Okanagan-Shuswap with Vernon leading increase

Revelstoke alone in high category by population although case number dropped slightly

Kelowna Fire Department. (FILE)
Shed fire spreads to Kelowna residence

The fire extended into the attic of a residence

A Kelowna yoga studio has received negative messages after being mistaken for a martial arts gym that was turning away vaccinated patrons. (Metro Creative Stock)
Kelowna MMA gym’s anti-vaccine policy prompts misguided nasty phone calls to yoga studio

Move & Flow yoga and dance studio is being confused with Flow Academy, an MMA gym that has barred vaccinated patrons

(Black Press Media File)
Kelowna-based cannabis company expands into Manitoba

Valens now distributes its products in Alberta, Ontario, and Saskatchewan as well

Jamie Coutts recorded a man following her around downtown Vancouver for a half-hour on Wednesday, March 18. (Instagram screenshot/Iammjammbamm)
Man charged in alleged high-profile Vancouver stalking case that went viral online

Man faces five other charges including criminal harassment and assault with a weapon

Most Read