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

A police car at the scene of a child’s death Friday, April 9, at the Falcon Nest Motel in Duncan. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
RCMP investigating child’s death at Duncan’s Falcon Nest Motel

First responders responded to a call about an unresponsive child at the… Continue reading

Town of Lake Cowichan looking to form tourism and housing committees

Decision not related to the Lake Cowichan Visitor Information Centre closure

“Representing the school district, legion, and Kaatza Station Museum left to right are Georgie Clark of the museum, Wilma Rowbottom of School District #66 and Ernie Spencer, representing the Legion. The museum and Legion, along with the Village will each take a piece of the old wood shop.” (The Lake News)
Lake Flashback: Soapboxes, woodshop split, taxes down

Remember these stories from Lake Cowichan?

Tim Schewe
Drivesmart column: Rules around bicycle lanes

The lane is often painted green to distinguish it from lanes intended for motor vehicles.

Robert’s column
Robert Barron column: New hospital shouldn’t charge for parking

Paying a parking meter is the last thing people visiting a hospital should have to worry about.

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

People walk past the Olympic rings in Whistler, B.C., Friday, May 15, 2020. Whistler which is a travel destination for tourists around the world is seeing the effects of travel bans due to COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Adults living, working in Whistler, B.C., eligible for COVID-19 vaccine on Monday

The move comes as the province deals with a rush of COVID-19 and variant cases in the community

RCMP display some of the fish seized from three suspects who pleaded guilty to violating the Fisheries Act in 2019, in this undated handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - RCMP
3 banned from fishing, holding licences after overfishing violations near Vancouver Island

Mounties seized the group’s 30-foot fishing vessel and all equipment on board at the time

B.C. Premier John Horgan responds to questions during a postelection news conference in Vancouver, on Sunday, October 25, 2020. British Columbia’s opposition Liberals and Greens acknowledge the COVID-19 pandemic has presented huge challenges for Horgan’s government, but they say Monday’s throne speech must outline a coherent plan for the province’s economic, health, social and environmental future. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Horgan’s NDP to bring in throne speech in B.C., Opposition wants coherent plan

Farnworth said the budget will include details of government investment in communities and infrastructure

FILE - An arena worker removes the net from the ice after the Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames NHL hockey game was postponed due to a positive COVID-19 test result, in Vancouver, British Columbia, in this Wednesday, March 31, 2021, file photo. As vaccinations ramp up past a pace of 3 million a day in the U.S, the NHL is in a tougher spot than the other three major North American professional sports leagues because seven of 31 teams are based on Canada. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP, File)
Vancouver Canucks scheduled to practice Sunday, resume games April 16 after COVID outbreak

Canucks outbreak delayed the team’s season by eight games

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod, seen here on April 9, 2021 with four-year-old sister Elena and mom Vanessa, was born with limb differences. The family, including husband/dad Sean McLeod, is looking for a family puppy that also has a limb difference. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. family looking for puppy with limb difference, just like 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy McLeod born as bilateral amputee, now her family wants to find ‘companion’ puppy for her

A vehicle that was driven through the wall of a parkade at Uptown Shopping Centre and into the nearby Walmart on April 9 was removed through another hole in the wall later that night. (Photo via Saanich Police Department and Ayush Kakkar)
Vehicle launched into B.C. Walmart removed following rescue of trapped workers

Crews cut new hole in parkade wall to remove vehicle safely

Most Read