British Columbia’s Crown Prosecution Service has dropped two dozen COVID-19 tickets served on three Chilliwack pastors who conducted in-person worship services in violation of provincial pandemic restriction orders.
The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, which represents the pastors, says the fines would have totalled $55,200.
“Because of B.C.’s total prohibition on all worship services, even where safety precautions were strictly adhered to, police began ticketing these churches for meeting weekly to worship starting in December 2020 and continuing halfway into 2021,” the Justice Centre said in a May 11 press release.
Pastor John Koopman of the Chilliwack Free Reformed Church was facing charges from 23 tickets totalling $52,900. Pastor James Butler of the Free Grace Baptist Church was given 25 tickets totalling $57,500, and Pastor Timothy Champ with the Valley Heights Community Church was issued 18 tickets totalling $41,400.
On May 4 and May 6, however, the Crown directed a stay of proceedings on the charges, dropping seven tickets against Pastor Koopman, 11 tickets against Pastor Butler, and six tickets against Pastor Champ.
The prosecution service said in a statement that Crown lawyers reviewed the 24 charges and found that the “assessment standard was no longer met,” while noting similar cases remained before the court.
The Justice Centre said there are still more than 20 tickets issued against pastors and churches in the Fraser Valley, and that it will defend them “vigorously.”
“B.C. discriminated against houses of worship, prohibiting them from meeting for worship regardless of the safety measures they implemented,” Justice Centre lawyer Marty Moore said in the press release.
“Twenty-five people could attend an indoor workout class, 50 people could go to a support group, but not even five people were permitted to gather for religious worship in a church, masjid, gurdwara, temple or synagogue under the provincial health orders.”
The Justice Centre added that before the stays of proceedings were issued last week, the Crown had stayed 25 other tickets issued to pastors in B.C. with a total of more than four dozen tickets dropped to date.
“All levels of government, including politicians, health officials and law enforcement, have the duty to respect the constitutional rights and freedoms of Canadians,” Moore said.
“In response to Covid, there has been a serious failure of government officials and authorities in B.C. to respect the Charter freedoms of B.C. residents.”
The Canadian Press contributed to this report