Trial underway for Alberta pastor accused of violating COVID-19 health orders

EDMONTON — The trial for an Alberta pastor accused of repeatedly flouting Alberta’s COVID-19 public health orders got underway in Edmonton on Monday. 

James Coates appeared in court, charged with one count of violating the Public Health Act.

On Monday, the court heard from an Alberta Health Services inspector who visited GraceLife Church. 

Janine Hanrahan told the court she first inspected the church in July 2020 following multiple complaints by the public to AHS.

She testified to observing a lack of physical distancing and mask-wearing at several inspections, including a church band and choir singing.

Hanrahan said during one inspection, she heard the pastor telling an RCMP officer that Alberta’s chief medical officer was a dictator and Premier Jason Kenney was hiding behind her.

Coates was jailed for more than a month after refusing to abide by a bail condition to not to hold church services that violated rules over gathering and masking. 

His lawyers admit that he broke health restrictions, but are arguing that the province’s pandemic health measures are unconstitutional and intrude on freedom of worship.

One of his lawyers, James Kitchen, was the only one in the courtroom not to wear a mask, claiming a medical exemption and offering a note from his doctor as proof.

In a rare move, the Crown prosecutor was granted a request that her name not be listed in court records due to safety concerns. 

The trial is scheduled to continue through at least Wednesday.

AHS eventually closed and fenced off the church in mid-April, sparking protests and driving Coates and his church to hold services in a secret location before posting a video recording online.

To date, 2,086 Albertans have died due to COVID-19 and nearly 8,000 have been hospitalized.

Last week, the province set new pandemic highs for daily new cases, net active cases, number of intensive care unit patients and test positivity.

With files from the Canadian Press

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