Churches, including Langley's Riverside Calvary Church, are challenging the regulations barring them from holding in-person worship services during COVID-19. (Langley Advance Times file)

UPDATED: B.C. churches in court to attempt to overturn ban on in-person services

A judge will hear arguments Monday through Wednesday

The lawyer representing B.C. churches that have continued to hold services in violation of health orders said that the rules were over-broad, arbitrary, and disproportionate in a hearing Monday in B.C. Supreme Court.

A lawyer for the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms is representing a group of churches and individuals, claiming that some of B.C.’s public health orders barring many gatherings are unconstitutional.

“Who are you saying is being discriminated against?” B.C. Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson asked as lawyer Paul Jaffe argued.

Jaffe replied that churches are subject to a different standard than other, secular gatherings. Later in the proceedings, he explicitly said that retail stores, schools, and pubs are allowed to have people in them but the moment a gathering becomes worship, it’s suddenly more dangerous.

“It’s entirely arbitrary,” Jaffe argued.

But Hinkson pushed back on some of Jaffe’s arguments later in the morning, asking whether the courts were equipped to rule on Dr. Bonnie Henry’s expertise as the province’s chief medical health officer.

“She recognizes the Charter must be applied,” Hinkson said. “She says, bearing that in mind, I think from a public health interest, only certain things can happen. Now, what’s wrong with that from a correctness standard?”

Jaffe continued to argue that there was an arbitrariness between the way the health orders were being applied to religious and secular gatherings.

“What business does this court have telling Dr. Henry how to make decisions about public health?” Hinkson asked.

The judge also noted that the change in policy in November that shut down in-person church services was not an “on-off switch.”

Churches can still hold virtual meetings, Hinkson noted, just as the court hearing was being held virtually.

He also questioned Jaffe about the lack of evidence of transmission of the virus in churches.

“If the churches have not been operating, the vast majority of them, how could there be evidence their operation is creating problems?” Hinkson said.

The churches can show there was minimal risk before the November shutdown, Jaffe said.

Also involved in the petition are a few people who were ticketed for holding outdoor protests in B.C., although the rules have now been changed to accommodate outdoor protests.

After suggesting that Henry was biased against religious organizations, Gareth Morley, the lawyer representing Henry and the B.C. Attorney General, objected, saying there was not a shred of evidence before the court that Henry had any bias.

“In my submission, he’s playing to the gallery,” Morley said.

“Well Mr. Morley, the gallery aren’t going to decide this case,” Hinkson replied.

Later Jaffe said he was not trying to imply Henry was acting in bad faith in any way.

Jaffe and lawyers representing the B.C. Attorney General and Henry have already clashed in front of Hinkson, when in March the government sought an injunction to block or even arrest people from attending the services.

Hinkson rejected the government’s request, saying the health authorities and police had enforcement powers they hadn’t even used yet, and therefore the courts had no need to issue an injunction.

So far, police have issued tickets but prosecutors have not announced more serious charges against the churches. Jaffe mentioned that the RCMP in Chilliwack have apparently recommended that charges be laid under the health orders against at least one local church.

READ MORE: No injunction against Fraser Valley churches holding services in violation of health orders

Last week, the government offered a limited in-person outdoor attendance option to the churches, but Jaffe said it didn’t go far enough.

It would allow outdoor services of no more than 25 members, with no singing, mandatory masks and no socializing after services, something Jaffe said was less than the churches were allowed during a brief period during the pandemic when in-person worship was allowed.

READ MORE: BC’s compromise on in person worship at three churches called ‘absolutely unacceptable’

– More to come

BC Supreme CourtCoronavirusLangleyReligion

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

John Campbell, with the Langley Rotary Club, got to check out the recently installed cold frames with Douglas Park Community School teacher Lorraine Goulet. (John Campbell/Special to the Langley Advance Times)
Rotary donation allows Langley students to get growing

Douglas Park Community School has new cold frames for its courtyard garden

Police blocked off 40th Avenue on Jan. 10, 2015 while firefighters battled a meth lab blaze. The fire has led to a lawsuit against Langley Township. (Langley Advance Times files)
Bill for meth lab fire leads to lawsuit against Langley Township

Local farmers say they shouldn’t have to pay costs of putting out fire in rental house

Wes Barker, second from left, with fellow Big Trick Energy show performers on “Ellen,” in video posted to youtube.com.
VIDEO: On ‘Ellen,’ former Langley man works magic with new ‘Big Trick Energy’ gang

A decade ago, Wes Barker quit his job with the City of Surrey to do magic professionally

Dr. Bonnie Henry gives her daily media briefing regarding Covid-19 for the province of British Columbia in Victoria, B.C, Monday, December 7, 2020.   THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
More Langley-area business closed due to COVID-19

Any business with three or more cases among employees can be closed

Vancouver Giants victorious over the Royals in Kamloops Thursday, April 15. The G-Men won, 4-0. (Allen Douglas/Special to Black Press Media)
VIDEO: Giants young goalie shutouts Victoria, 4-0

The Langley-based WHL team earn another victory over the Royals Thursday in Kamloops

Rainbow trouts thrashing with life as they’re about to be transferred to the largest lake of their lives, even though it’s pretty small. These rainbows have a blue tinge because they matched the blue of their hatchery pen, but soon they’ll take on the green-browns of their new home at Lookout Lake. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
VIDEO: B.C. lake stocked with hatchery trout to delight of a seniors fishing club

The Cherish Trout Scouts made plans to come back fishing soon

The funeral of Britain’s Prince Philip in Windsor, England, on Saturday, April 17, 2021. Philip died April 9 at the age of 99. (Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP)
PHOTOS: Prince Philip laid to rest Saturday as sombre queen sits alone

The entire royal procession and funeral took place out of public view within the grounds of Windsor Castle

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan describe vaccine rollout at the legislature, March 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C. health minister says delay in Moderna vaccine ‘disappointing’

‘The sooner we get vaccines in people’s arms the better, and inconsistency in delivery is a consistent problem. This is simply a reality and not an issue of blame,’ Adrian Dix said Friday

(Police handout/Kamloops RCMP)
B.C. man dies in custody awaiting trial for Valentine’s Day robbery, kidnapping spree

Robert James Rennie, who was on the Kamloops RCMP’s most wanted list, passed away at the North Fraser Pretrial Centre in Coquitlam

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Statue of Lady Justice at B.C. Supreme Court in New Westminster. (File photo)
B.C. Supreme Court expands services to offer sittings in Port Coquitlam

Starting Monday, sittings for some civil and family matters will be held in the Tri-Cities courthouse

Photos of Vancouver Canucks players are pictured outside the closed box office of Rogers Arena in downtown Vancouver Thursday, April 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Canucks games against Leafs postponed as team returns from COVID-19

The team has had 11 games postponed since an outbreak late last month

Danita Bilozaze and her daughter Dani in Comox. Photo by Karen McKinnon
Island woman makes historic name change for truth and reconciliation

Becomes first person in Canada to be issued new passport under the TRC Calls to Action

Nick Warmerdam and his dog Diesel are inviting locals to check out the Lakeland Farm U-pick Flower Farm this spring. (Ben Lypka/Abbotsford News)
VIDEO & SLIDESHOW: Abbotsford’s Lakeland Flowers opens for spring

Tulip farm attraction opened on April 14, open to the public daily seven days a week

Most Read