Riverside Calvary Church in Walnut Grove. (Langley Advance Times file)

Riverside Calvary Church in Walnut Grove. (Langley Advance Times file)

B.C. is ‘stereotyping’ churches as riskier for COVID than other spaces, lawyer argues

Judge said that freedom of expression, religion are not at issue in the case

A lawyer representing churches in their battle to fight B.C.’s COVID restrictions on in-person worship took aim at the province Tuesday (March 2), arguing that officials are singling out churches as being more dangerous than other spaces.

“Gatherings of people don’t become more risky based on the subject of discussion,” argued Paul Jaffe in B.C. Supreme Court. He pointed to bars, restaurants and stores that remain open, while in-person church services have been banned since November. Religious institutions themselves remain open for solo visits.

The three-day trial, expected to end Wednesday, is being brought by the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, which represents a group of church and individuals in the province.

Jaffe said that a very small number of cases have been connected to religious settings, citing churches that have taken similar safety measures as establishments that are allowed to remain operate.

That, Jaffe, argued, limits freedom of expression.

“You don’t target people based on what they’re saying,” he said.

But B.C. Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson said that freedom of expression and religious freedom aren’t what is at issue in this case in his eyes.

“They’re free to have whatever religious views they wish,” Hinkson said. “No one is saying they’re not allowed to express their views.”

However, lawyer Gareth Morley, who works for the legal services branch of the Attorney General Ministry, said that comparable activities in religious settings are allowed to continue, including faith-based schools, Sunday school and limited religious marriage ceremonies.

Jaffe argued that the form of expression was also important. He said that while virtual church services exist for congregants, in-person gatherings are “absolutely integral to their faith” and that “it’s very painful to these people” to be separated from in-person worship services.

Morley said it is agreed that the province is in the middle of a pandemic.

“And measures taken to protect public health, to protect lives, to protect people from serious illness, and to protect the ability of the health-care system itself to respond, that those are the sorts of measures that can limit charter rights, including freedom of religion.”

Henry has a duty under the Constitution to “proportionally and reasonably” limit freedoms by preventing the gathering of people to ensure their health and safety, Morley said.

Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson asked who decides whether the limits are proportional or reasonable, adding that he wants to understand how the provincial health officer is making her decisions.

“Aren’t the churches entitled to know why if you go to the bar and watch a hockey game for an hour or two, you can’t sit in a church for an hour or two? It is a point I struggle with.”

Hinkson said he understands Henry has a difficult job, but she hasn’t explained why or how she is making the decisions.

“If she chooses not to share her thought process with the court, there’s no oversight,” he said.

Morley said the decisions are made after careful review by health officials and experts.

So balancing religious rights and protecting people from an “out-of-control epidemic” is a matter of judgment, he said, adding that Henry met with religious leaders and health officials while making her decisions.

READ MORE: B.C. churches in court to attempt to overturn ban on in-person services

– with files from The Canadian Press


@katslepian

katya.slepian@bpdigital.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Bruce Whittington making a founding gift to the Ladysmith Community Foundation Fund, presented to then Nanaimo Foundation Board Chair, Ted Carson. (Submitted photo)
New Ladysmith Community Fund set up to support local charities

The fund will be managed by the Nanaimo Foundation and all funds will remain in Ladysmith

B.C. Centre for Disease Control maps showing new COVID-19 cases by local health area for the week of April 4-10. (BCCDC image)
Parksville-Qualicum passes Nanaimo in new COVID-19 cases

Greater Victoria had more new cases than any other Island area: B.C. Centre for Disease Control

‘For Sale’ signs quickly turned to ‘Sold’ signs as record-high demand for housing meets record-low inventory. (Cole Schisler photo)
Multiple offers and unconditional sales rampant in Ladysmith housing market

Vancouver Island Real Estate Board Zone 3 director Susan Perrey says the market is ‘crazy all around’

From left to right: Vicki Barta, Bruce Ormond, Greg Heide, Gord McInnis, and Charles Harman rehearse via zoom for the upcoming radio play, “Visitor from Planet Zoltan”. (Submitted photo)
Radio plays prove successful for Ladysmith Little Theatre, four more in production

Ladysmith Little Theatre pivoted to producing radio plays during the pandemic

Two men were seen removing red dresses alongside the Island Highway in Oyster Bay. (Submitted photo)
Two men filmed removing red dresses from trees in Oyster Bay

Activists hung the dresses to raise awareness for Vancouver Island Murdered/Missing Women & Girls

Rainbow trouts thrashing with life as they’re about to be transferred to the largest lake of their lives, even though it’s pretty small. These rainbows have a blue tinge because they matched the blue of their hatchery pen, but soon they’ll take on the green-browns of their new home at Lookout Lake. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
VIDEO: B.C. lake stocked with hatchery trout to delight of a seniors fishing club

The Cherish Trout Scouts made plans to come back fishing soon

For Leela Harrop, the recent death of her brother Raju Tiwari pushed her to sign up for the vaccine. Photo supplied
Island woman on fence about vaccine prompted by brother’s death

Leela Harrop of Comox says she did have issues with signing up online this past week

Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops. (Dave Eagles/Kamloops This Week file photo)
RCMP intercept vehicle fleeing with infant taken from Kamloops hospital

The baby was at the hospital receiving life-saving care

Vancouver Police Const. Deepak Sood is under review by the Independent Investigations Office of B.C. after making comments to a harm reduction advocate Sunday, April 11. (Screen grab)
VIDEO: Vancouver officer convicted of uttering threats under watchdog review again

Const. Deepak Sood was recorded Sunday saying ‘I’ll smack you’ and ‘go back to selling drugs’ to a harm reduction advocate

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry prepares a daily update on the coronavirus pandemic, April 21, 2020. (B.C. Government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate persists, 1,005 new cases Friday

Hospitalization up to 425, six more virus-related deaths

Premier John Horgan receives a dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at the pharmacy in James Bay Thrifty’s Foods in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, April 16, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. Premier John Horgan gets AstraZeneca shot, encourages others

27% of residents in B.C. have now been vaccinated against COVID-19

The Nautical Dog Cafe at Skaha marina is getting its patio ready in hopes Mother Nature will provide where provincial restrictions have taken away indoor dining. (Facebook)
‘A lot of instability’: B.C. restaurants in layoff limbo

As COVID-19 cases stay high, restaurants in British Columbia are closed to indoor dining

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau looks on as Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland responds to a question during a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Expectations high as Trudeau Liberals get ready to unveil first pandemic budget

The Liberals will look to thread an economic needle with Monday’s budget

John Furlong, Own The Podium board chairman and former CEO of the Vancouver Olympics, addresses a Vancouver Board of Trade luncheon in Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday November 25, 2015.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
John Furlong presents 2030 Winter Games vision to Vancouver Board of Trade

Vancouver and Whistler would remain among host sites because of 2010 sport venues still operational

Most Read