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Fraser Valley church pastor’s Charter challenge over COVID ticket summarily dismissed

Judge rules against holding an evidentiary hearing because B.C. Supreme Court already set precedent
Rev. John Koopman of Free Reformed Church in Chilliwack who was found guilty of violating COVID-19 orders on religious gatherings. (Screenshot

A Chilliwack pastor’s attempt to overturn his ticket for COVID-19 gathering by claiming it violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was summarily dismissed in provincial court on Thursday (April 20).

Rev. John Koopman of Chilliwack Free Reformed Church was ticketed in 2020 for violating the provincial Gathering and Events (G&E) Order by hosting a church service.

Koopman is one of at least three Chilliwack pastors, including James Butler and Timothy Champ, who each faced more than a dozen violation tickets for incidents in December 2020 and January 2021.

Koopman fought the ticket, but Judge Andrea Ormiston found him guilty in November, 2022. He organized the church event on Dec. 6, 2020 and he knew it was not allowed under the law, she found.

His lawyer Paul Jaffe with the Alberta-based Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF), told the court after conviction that he would be making the constitutional challenge arguing that G&E Order violated sections of the Charter.

A so-called Vukelich hearing was held on April 20, which is scheduled to determine if Charter applications should be summarily dismissed for lack of a reasonable prospect of success, or if there should be a full evidentiary hearing of the applications.

Crown argued that the application should be dismissed because the matter was already settled by the B.C. Supreme Court in the case of R v. Beaudoin in 2021.

In that case, the court determined that the restrictions imposed by the G&E order did indeed infringe on sections 2(c) and (d), which protect freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, but the infringement was justified under section 1 of the Charter.

Section 1 is the limiting part of the Charter, specifically saying, “that Charter rights can be limited by law so long as those limits can be shown to be reasonable in a free and democratic society.”

“Although the impacts of the G&E orders on the religious petitioners’ rights are significant, the benefits to the objectives of the orders are even more so,” Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson wrote in his decision in the Beaudoin case. “In my view, the orders represent a reasonable and proportionate balance.”

Judge Ormiston agreed with Crown and summarily dismissed the Charter applications.

Jaffe told The Progress in March that he has a further application to make regarding his client’s claim related to “abuse of process and bad faith” and it will be addressed in a hearing in May.”

RELATED: Charter breach applications rejected for accused in Fraser Valley chicken abuse case

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