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Legal group challenging B.C.'s COVID-19 rules on protests, places of worship

Last Updated Jan 8, 2021 at 6:53 pm PDT

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The petition asks the court to set aside fines of $2,300 issued for alleged violations of the public health orders

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms says it represents a dozen organizations, individuals

VANCOUVER — A legal advocacy group is challenging the British Columbia government’s COVID-19 restrictions on worship services and public protests, arguing they violate people’s rights and freedoms

A petition filed by the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms also asks the B.C. Supreme Court to dismiss tickets of up to $2,300 for alleged violations of the public health orders.

The Calgary-based organization says it represents over a dozen individuals and faith communities who have been issued fines for violating orders. The challenge is based on several sections of the charter, including freedom of conscience and religion, and freedom of peaceful assembly.

“These severe measures are being imposed on members of the religious community, while the BC government allows hundreds of people to gather at any given time in a single big box store. The government allows residents to gather and seat six at a table at bars and restaurants. In contrast, British Columbia tells citizens: ‘Do not attend a service at a church, synagogue, mosque, gurdwara, temple, or other places of worship,’” reads a press release from the organization.

“The Petition challenges that the Orders on the basis that they unjustifiably violate the rights and freedoms of BC residents protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

The group further argues places of worship have ” gone to extraordinary lengths to comply with health guidelines,” and has filed affidavits “attesting to the negative effect prohibiting in-person gatherings has had on individuals, including loneliness, depression, anxiety and fear.”

Regarding protests, the center says people have been issued tickets for not complying with rules.

“This has resulted in peaceful protestors being ticketed for not complying with all requirements in the Orders, such as collecting the first and last names and contact information of fellow protestors,” according to a news release.

The petition says one protest organizer was “terrified at the prospect of being required to provide such information to the government.”

British Columbia’s Ministry of Health said in a statement that while it couldn’t comment on matters before the courts, it is confident all the provincial health officer’s orders are in accordance with the law, including the charter.

JCCF Application for judicial review