A provincial government proposal to permit limited in-person attendance by members of three churches in Langley, Abbotsford, and Chilliwack was described by their lawyer, Paul Jaffe, as “a tiny little baby step” that doesn’t go far enough.
Jaffe confirmed the proposal was made after an application by the province for a court injunction was rejected.
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.
Jaffe called that “a giant leap backward” that is “absolutely unacceptable.”
Jaffe views the proposal as “a strategic move on the courthouse steps” before a judge hears an application by the churches to have the ban overturned on Monday.
He said the proposal was made after the churches advised they would be seeking an exemption from the in-person worship ban.
All three churches have continued to hold services in defiance of the bans, and in January they petitioned the court to lift orders that banned or restricted public gatherings, “as they unjustifiably infringe the rights and freedoms of the petitioners [the churches] guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” according to the claim filed by their lawyers.
The B.C. government Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, have argued the restrictions are necessary to control the pandemic, which has killed more than 1,300 British Columbians.
“Churches simply want to be treated equally,” Jaffe said.
The churches have been using physical distancing, hand sanitizer, and contact tracing, Jaffe said.
In dismissing the application for an injunction, Justice Christopher Hinkson, the chief justice of the B.C. Supreme Court, said the ruling was founded largely on the grounds that the province didn’t need the courts to intervene with an injunction – there are already other powers the government can use to enforce the health orders.
“To be clear, I am not condoning the petitioners’ [churches] conduct in contravention of the orders that they challenge, but find that the injunctive relief sought by the respondents should not be granted,” Hinkson wrote in his decision.
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