Alta. church calls defiance of public health orders 'practical,' 'not theological'
RCMP said GraceLife Church welcomed more than 15 per cent of its capacity for a service on Feb. 7, 2021.
EDMONTON -- Worshippers, police and health inspectors again converged Sunday morning at a church west of Edmonton that continues to disregard COVID-19 public health orders.
Mounties and Alberta Health Services confirmed each had officers attend the service at GraceLife Church in Parkland County.
RCMP spokesperson Laurel Scott said a "more official announcement regarding enforcement" would come on Monday, but noted that GraceLife had again exceeded the 15-per cent capacity limit that all Alberta businesses and faith settings are currently subject to.
Sunday's service was also held in defiance of a closure order from AHS and a Court of Queen's Bench order, which were issued in January for similar violations of the province's COVID-19 restrictions.
- READ MORE: Alberta church opens on Sunday despite closure order over COVID-19 violations
- READ MORE: Church west of Edmonton ordered to close after failing to fix health violations
Although requests from CTV News Edmonton for comment from Pastor James Coates went unanswered Sunday afternoon, he addressed media at the top of his service.
Of the church's gathering, he said, "It's not a theological defence. It's more of a practical defence," and directed the public to a lengthy statement on GraceLife's website which disputes the use of the word pandemic and calls the science behind public health guidance "both suspect and selective."
"There is no empirical evidence that lockdowns are effective in mitigating the spread of the virus. We are gravely concerned that COVID-19 is being used to fundamentally alter society and strip us all of our civil liberties," it reads in part.
The statement also implies an exaggeration by officials of the severity of COVID-19, referencing a publicly criticized comparison by Premier Jason Kenney of COVID-19 to influenza.
Kenney said on May 28 in the Alberta legislature, "We cannot continue indefinitely to impair the social and economic, as well as the mental health and physiological health, of the broader population for potentially a year through measures for an influenza that does not generally threaten life, apart from the most elderly, the immunocompromised and those with comorbidities."
Alberta's chief medical officer of health has repeatedly said influenza and COVID-19 are different: the latter has so far caused five times the number of ICU admissions and as many deaths as influenza would in 10 years.
- READ MORE: There have now been more than 1,600 COVID-19-related deaths in Alberta – more than 10 years of influenza
AHS told CTV News Edmonton the church is creating "unacceptable public health risks."
"The GraceLife Church is required to pay fines previously issued by the RCMP and may be subjected to additional penalties imposed by law enforcement or the Courts for continued non-compliance."