Trial date set for Alberta pastor who held church services despite health orders

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STONY PLAIN, Alta. — A trial date has been set for a pastor of an Edmonton-area church that has been holding Sunday services in violation of COVID-19 rules.

James Coates with GraceLife Church in Spruce Grove did not appear in court today as a three-day trial was set to start May 3.

Coates, who was arrested last week and remanded in custody after refusing to agree to bail conditions, remains behind bars.

Several people gathered outside the Stony Plain courthouse in support of the pastor and urged Premier Jason Kenney to come to his senses and lift COVID-19 restrictions.

The church has been holding services that officials say break public-health regulations on attendance, masking and distancing.

Coates was charged this month with violating the Public Health Act and breaking a promise to abide by rules of his bail release, which is a Criminal Code offence.

Police fined the church $1,200 in December and a closure order was issued in January.

Coates has addressed the province's health restrictions in his sermons, telling worshippers that governments exist as instruments of God and there should be unfettered freedom of worship.

An associate pastor of the church, Jacob Spenst, conducted last Sunday's service and told the congregation that messages of support have been pouring in for the jailed pastor.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 24, 2021.

The Canadian Press