Alberta pastor cited for COVID-19 violations remains jailed after bail appeal dismissed
EDMONTON -- An Alberta pastor will remain in jail after losing an appeal of his bail conditions on Friday morning.
James Coates was charged under the Public Health Act for holding services at the GraceLife Church in Parkland County west of Edmonton while ignoring COVID-19 health restrictions.
He was appealing his bail conditions, including that he not lead church services without obeying health orders, on the grounds that they unconstitutionally violated his personal liberty and freedom of religion.
On Friday, Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Peter Michalyshyn dismissed that appeal, saying Coates remained unrepentant and intended to continue violating public health orders should he be released without conditions.
"The law that Mr. Coates clearly intends not to be bound by remains valid and enforceable against him," Michalyshyn said, noting Coates' beliefs "do not overcome" those laws.
"He remains subject to the rule of law which is itself a constitutional value of overarching importance."
Michalyshyn also dismissed further affidavits from both Coates and his wife saying they added "nothing substantially different" than what had already been argued.
"If anything, Mr. Coates ... drives home even more clearly and personally the depth of his conviction not be bound by the law."
RELEASE GRANTED, BUT DECLINED
Coates has been held in custody at the Edmonton Remand Centre since Feb. 16.
He was granted bail but said he could not abide by the conditions of release, specifically that he not lead church services.
"Charter freedoms do not disappear because the government declares regular church services to be outlawed while allowing hundreds of people to fill their local Walmarts," said John Carpay, a lawyer for Coates, in a release issued within minutes of the ruling.
Retail services and places of worship remain restricted to limiting capacity to 15 per cent of fire code occupancy, according to provincial health restrictions.
Prosecutors argued changing the bail conditions was unwarranted and would allow Coates to continue doing what got him initially charged and then jailed.
A three-day trial is set to begin on May 3 in Stony Plain.
Friday also marks one year since the first COVID-19 case in Alberta. Since then, 1,911 Albertans have died due to COVID-19 and nearly 6,000 have been admitted to hospital.