Parkland County church ordered to close for violating COVID-19 rules

·2 min read

Health authorities have ordered an Edmonton-area church to close for failing to abide by public health orders in place to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

On Jan. 29, Alberta Health Services ordered the immediate closure of GraceLife Church in Parkland County.

Authorities cited the observations of inspectors that on Jan. 24, there were more than 290 people attending a service — which is in excess of the 15 per cent operational capacity.

The order to close also notes that church, staff volunteers and attendees were observed unmasked in the lobby and sanctuary, and that staff and volunteers were not maintaining two metres distance from other households.

The order also notes that the church has failed to submit a "relaunch plan" outlining the ways it would implement public health measures to reduce the spread of the virus.

The church was first ordered to create the plan and abide by the province's COVID-19 guidelines on Dec. 17, 2020. At the time, Pastor James Coates was issued a $1,200 ticket for contravening orders of Alberta's chief medical officer of health.

On Jan. 21, a Court of Queen's Bench judge issued a ruling finding that the Dec. 17 order was enforceable.

Coates did not respond to an email requesting comment on Sunday. A notice on the church's website said it is closed to the general public but remains open to GraceLife members in good standing, regular adherents and people going through its membership process.

GraceLife isn't the only Alberta church that has defied public health orders.

Its sister church, Grace Bible Fellowship in La Crete, published a recording of a sermon by Pastor Mike Hovland in December, in which he described the province's public health restrictions as "tyranny" and counselled church members to ignore the rules meant to help limit the spread of COVID-19.

Earlier this month, police and Alberta Health Services responded to Fairview Baptist Church in Calgary after the pastor continued to encourage congregants to break public health rules following a fine and health inspection order.

On Friday, there were 7,530 active cases of COVID-19 in Alberta. To date, the province has reported 1,631 deaths attributed to COVID-19.