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

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 an independent pharmacy during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto, on Monday, April 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
B.C.’s 1st vaccine-induced blood clot case detected in Interior Health

Interior Health also recorded 52 new cases of COVID-19

(Kamloops This Week file photo)
Probe into TNRD spending taken over by federal police unit

Financial Integrity Sensitive Investigations Unit is now reviewing the case

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
Stolen truck found broken down on Highway 97C, Williams Lake suspect arrested near Ashcroft

A security guard first noticed the truck, and thought it looked suspicious

A woman wears a face mask and shield to curb the spread of COVID-19 while walking in North Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday, January 6, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
57 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health region

Thirty people in the region are in hospital, 16 of whom are in intensive care

File photo
Stolen Alberta vehicle found in flames in Blue River

Local RCMP also attended house fire evening of May 2.

Protesters attempt to stop clear-cutting of old-growth trees in Fairy Creek near Port Renfrew. (Will O’Connell photo)
VIDEO: Workers, activists clash at site of Vancouver Island logging operation

Forest license holders asking for independent investigation into incident

Starting Tuesday, May 11, B.C. adults born in 1981 and earlier will be able to register for a vaccine dose. (Haley Ritchie/Black Press Media)
BC adults 40+ eligible to book COVID-19 vaccinations next week

Starting Tuesday, people born in 1981 and earlier will be able to schedule their inoculation against the virus

Parks Canada and Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks dig the washed up Princess M out from sand along the south shore of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. (Nora O’Malley photo)
Rescue attempt costs man his boat off Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

Coast Guard response questioned after volunteer responder’s speedboat capsizes in heavy swells

Al Kowalko shows off the province’s first electric school bus, running kids to three elementary and two secondary schools on the West Shore. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
B.C.’s first electric school bus making the rounds in Victoria suburbs

No emissions, no fuel costs and less maintenance will offset the $750K upfront expense

Road sign on Highway 1 west of Hope warns drivers of COVID-19 essential travel road checks on the highways into the B.C. Interior. (Jessica Peters/Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. residents want travel checks at Alberta border, MLA says

Police road checks in place at highways out of Vancouver area

Victoria police say the photo they circulated of an alleged cat thief was actually a woman taking her own cat to the vet. (Black Press Media File Photo)
Photo of suspected cat thief released by Victoria police actually just woman with her pet

Police learned the she didn’t steal Penelope the cat, and was actually taking her cat to the vet

The Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Louis S. St-Laurent sails past a iceberg in Lancaster Sound, Friday, July 11, 2008. The federal government is expected to end nearly two years of mystery today and reveal its plan to build a new, long overdue heavy icebreaker for the Canadian Coast Guard. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Vancouver, Quebec shipyards to each get new heavy icebreaker, cost remains a mystery

Vancouver’s Seaspan Shipyards and Quebec-based Chantier Davie will each build an icebreaker for the coast guard

Findings indicate a culture of racism, misogyny and bullying has gripped the game with 64 per cent of people involved saying players bully others outside of the rink. (Pixabay)
Misogyny, racism and bullying prevalent across Canadian youth hockey, survey finds

56% of youth hockey players and coaches say disrespect to women is a problem in Canada’s sport

Most Read