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B.C. health officer seeks injunction against churches violating COVID-19 ban on services

Last Updated Feb 11, 2021 at 11:22 am PST

(Source: iStock)

B.C. wants court injunction to stop three churches in the Fraser Valley from holding in-person services

Request comes after some churches were part of a constitutional challenge of COVID-19 restrictions filed last month

Dr. Bonnie Henry has said repeatedly the ban on indoor gatherings is necessary to limit the spread of the virus

VANCOUVER — British Columbia’s provincial health officer and attorney general are asking for a court injunction ordering three churches to follow public health rules banning in-person religious services.

The application in B.C. Supreme Court comes after the churches filed a petition challenging the province’s prohibition on services, arguing they violate people’s rights and freedoms.

The Riverside Calvary Chapel in Langley, the Immanuel Covenant Reformed Church in Abbotsford and Free Reformed Church of Chilliwack filed the petition last month.

Dr. Bonnie Henry says in her response to the petition that the ban on indoor gatherings, including in-person religious services, is necessary to limit the spread of COVID-19 in B.C.

She says transmission of the virus seems highest in settings of sustained interpersonal interaction indoors or in enclosed spaces, and loud talking, chanting and singing also increase spread.

The churches are represented by a Calgary-based advocacy group, the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, which questions in a statement why people can gather in stores, gyms and bars but not places of worship.

Health Minister Adrian Dix insists the gathering restrictions, which impact religious services, are needed.

“This is part of an ongoing court case that’s been brought actually against the province. And I think our job and Dr. Henry’s job is to reduce transmission of COVID-19 in British Columbia and so we support those efforts,” he said, noting the courts will have the final say.

“We’re very confident that all of the actions that Dr. Henry has taken are consistent with the Canadian Charters of Rights and Freedoms. But the matter is before the courts and it will be decided there,” Dix added.

In her response, Henry says, “The ban on indoor gatherings is necessary to limit the spread of COVID-19 in the province.”

Meanwhile, the conservative Association for Reformed Political Action is also hoping to add its perspective. It is applying for intervenor status.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article incorrectly referred to the Association for Reformed Political Action as the Conservative Association for Reformed Political Action. This edit was made, as the organization has no affiliation with the Conservative political party.