Anti-lockdown rally at Alberta legislature voices support for jailed pastor

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EDMONTON — Dozens of police and sheriffs kept hundreds of opponents of Alberta's pandemic restrictions separated from counterprotesters at the province's legislature on Saturday.

Many of the anti-lockdown speakers voiced support for Pastor James Coates of GraceLife Church near Edmonton, who was arrested earlier this week when the church continued to hold Sunday services that police allege violated COVID-19 restrictions.

Prior to the demonstration, supporters said prayers outside the Edmonton Remand Centre where Coates has been remanded in custody for refusing to agree to bail conditions.

A sign carried by one demonstrator said "Free the Preacher, Jail the Premier."

The other group of protesters, which was smaller, held signs that said "Masks Save Lives" and "Hate Speech Not Welcome Here."

One demonstrator was apprehended and taken away forcefully, but police haven't released details.

A number of the anti-lockdown demonstrators arrived in Edmonton after driving in a convoy from southern Alberta, beginning in Lethbridge and passing through Calgary before heading north.

Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson issued a statement ahead of the demonstration, saying COVID-19 is "not a joke or a hoax" and that wearing masks and following public health measures saves lives.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 20, 2021.

The Canadian Press