Court to hear challenge of health orders banning in-person religious gatherings

·1 min read
Three Fraser Valley churches filed a petition claiming the province had violated their constitutional right to expression and religious worship by shutting down all in-person religious gatherings and worship services.
Three Fraser Valley churches filed a petition claiming the province had violated their constitutional right to expression and religious worship by shutting down all in-person religious gatherings and worship services.

(Shutterstock / ehrlif - image credit)

Three Fraser Valley churches will be in court Monday seeking to overturn provincial health orders barring in-person religious gatherings.

The orders were put in place by Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry last year as a way to curtail the spread of COVID-19 and were last extended on Feb.10.

In January, pastors with Langley's Riverside Calvary Chapel, Abbotsford's Immanuel Covenant Reformed Church and the Free Reformed Church of Chilliwack filed a petition claiming Henry had violated their guaranteed constitutional right to expression and religious worship by shutting down all in-person religious gatherings and worship services while allowing restaurants and businesses to remain open.

A response filed by the provincial government said even though there is "no question that restrictions on gatherings to avoid transmission of [COVID-19] limit rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms," the limits were justified.

"Rights and freedoms under the charter are not absolute," the response reads.

"Protection of the vulnerable from death or severe illness and protection of the health-care system from being swamped by an out-of-control pandemic is also clearly of constitutional importance."

Last month the government went to court asking for an interlocutory injunction to stop the churches from flouting the health orders in the period leading up to the March hearing.

But the chief justice of British Columbia's Supreme Court dismissed the application, saying there were other remedies available to enforce the orders without the court getting involved.

"To be clear, I am not condoning the petitioners' conduct in contravention of the orders that they challenge, but find that the injunctive relief sought by the respondents should not be granted," wrote Justice Christopher Hinkson.