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Edmonton-area pastor, church acquitted in Alberta COVID-19 rules case


Charges against an Edmonton-area pastor and his church related to violating public health rules during the COVID-19 pandemic have been officially dropped.

A judge in a Stony Plain courtroom Wednesday morning acquitted both Pastor James Coates and GraceLife Church of charges they violated Alberta's Public Health Act in late 2020 and early 2021 after Crown prosecutors closed their case by calling no further evidence in the case, essentially inviting the court to drop the charges.

The church had been charged with holding over-capacity services that went against COVID-19 rules, while Coates, who spent 35 days in jail in 2021 because he refused to agree to the conditions of his release after he was granted bail and was given a $1,500 fine after pleading guilty to breaching health rules, faced a personal charge for his role in hosting the services.

The cases against Coates, the church and others — including Mirror, Alta., cafe owner Christopher Scott and rodeo organizer Ty Northcott — had been delayed repeatedly over the last two years pending the outcome of another COVID-19 restrictions case in Calgary against a group of people including gym owner Rebecca Ingram.

After a judge in that case ruled in late July some public health orders and restrictions were invalid because politicians had approved them, not the chief medical officer of health, Alberta crown prosecutors late last week said they would no longer pursue cases related to the pandemic and the health act. Prosecutors on Monday in Red Deer dropped Scott's case.

Lawyer Hart Spencer, who represented both Coates and GraceLife, said the pastor — who was not present in Stony Plain court Wednesday — is "very pleased with the results."

"These cases have been hanging over himself and the church for just about three years, and that's not easy for anybody," Spencer said from Cold Lake, Alta., where his Grey Wowk Spencer LLP law firm is headquartered. "If they were convicted and sentenced, they were exposed to fines over $100,000 very likely. We're talking significant penalties and all. There was the risk of further imprisonment for Pastor Coates potentially. So he's very pleased this chapter is closed, but I wouldn't say that he would feel, nor would I feel for him, that he was fully vindicated today."

Spencer said he didn't know if Coates would pursue damages.

"I think he has every right to feel very miffed, if you will," he said. "These public health orders ... have now been determined to be unlawful because they were made by people who didn't have authority to make them — and look at the consequences that he's had (because of it.)" 


A previous version of the story incorrectly stated Coates had breached his bail conditions. Top Stories

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