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)

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)

COVID-19: 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.

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.

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

A cargo container was knocked off a truck trying to pass under the Glover Road overpass in 2018. Crews will be working on the overpass Monday, April 12 in the evening and one eastbound lane will be temporarily closed. (Langley Advance Times files)
Highway slowdown expected Monday night in Langley for overpass work

The Glover Road overpass is getting some work done

COVID-19 virus (file photo).
Langley schools exposure list grows with latest COVID cases

As of Monday there were 14 schools on Fraser Health’s list

People have been leaving Post-It note messages for staff at the COVID-19 vaccination clinic in the Langley Events Centre. (Fraser Health Tweet)
LETTER: Langley resident lauds LEC vaccination clinic staff

Local couple impressed with everyone they encountered at the clinic set up in the local hockey arena

Have an opinion you’d like to share? Submit letters to the editor through our website, via email or the postal service. (Heather Colpitts/Black Press Media)
LETTER: Langley resident urges patience for all awaiting vaccination

Letter writer also encourages people to show their gratitude to hardworking front-line health staff

Well Seasoned gourmet food store owner Angie Quaale bought and distributed $500 worth of gift cards to a local restaurant last week, after Dr. Bonnie Henry announced the “circuit breaker” shut down of indoor seating at the end of last month. She’s hoping it will spark more people to help local restaurant and pub operators. She’s doing another giveaway starting Monday night. (Jeff Vinnick/Special to Black Press Media)
VIDEO: Gift card purchases aim to boost sales for struggling Langley restaurants

A Langley business owner tries to support fellow food entrepeneurs hit hard by pandemic restrictions

Burnaby MLA Raj Chouhan presides as Speaker of the B.C. legislature, which opened it spring session April 12 with a speech from the throne. THE CANADIAN PRESS
B.C. NDP promises more health care spending, business support in 2021 budget

John Horgan government to ‘carefully return to balanced budgets’

A youth was arrested following a car crash on Wallace Street on Saturday, April 10. (Karl Yu/News Bulletin)
Onlookers laugh and jeer as B.C. teen beaten, then forced to strip and walk home

Police arrest older teen, call video shared on social media ‘disturbing’

Surrey RCMP are seeking the public's help to locate three puppies stolen from a South Surrey home on April 10. (Surrey RCMP photos)
Puppies stolen during weekend break-and-enter in South Surrey

Surrey RCMP seeking public’s assistance in locating three American Bulldog puppies

A lady wears a sticker given out after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count slows after last week’s peak

3,219 new cases since Friday, 18 additional deaths

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

North Cowichan councillor Tek Manhas did not violate the municipality’s code of conduct by posting a sexist meme on Facebook, council concludes. (File photo)
B.C. municipality to take no action against councillor who posted sexist meme

Tek Manhas’s meme doesn’t violate North Cowichan council’s code of conduct, municipality concludes

—Image: contributed
Indoor wine tastings still allowed in B.C., not considered a ‘social gathering’

“Tasting is really just part of the retail experience. The analogy I use is you wouldn’t buy a pair of pants without trying them on.”

A sign on a shop window indicates the store is closed in Ottawa, Monday March 23, 2020. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business is raising its estimate for the number of businesses that are considering the possibility of closing permanently. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Small business struggling amid COVID-19 pandemic looks for aid in Liberals’ budget

President Dan Kelly said it is crucial to maintain programs to help businesses to the other side of the pandemic

The National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians says that includes attempts to steal Canadian research on COVID-19 and vaccines, and sow misinformation. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)
Intelligence committee warns China, Russia targeting Canadian COVID-19 research

Committee also found that the terrorist threat to Canada has shifted since its last such assessment

Most Read