EDMONTON -- While their pastor remained held at an Edmonton correctional facility, more congregants than maybe ever before gathered for service at GraceLife Church on Sunday.

The parking lot at the church west of Edmonton appeared to be more full on Feb. 21 than any of the previous Sundays CTV News Edmonton had attended over four weeks.

At one point, people at the gate were overheard telling incomers that the building's total fire code capacity had been reached, encouraging them to watch the livestreamed service outside.

Currently, Alberta allows faith-based organizations to host up to 15 per cent of their buildings' fire code capacity under public health orders instated for COVID-19.


Three RCMP vehicles were seen outside the GraceLife Church property on Sunday, like many weeks previous.

A Mountie spokesperson said officers "continued their investigation into the GraceLife Church this morning as a part of ongoing allegations into the church's non-compliance with the Public Health Order. 

"Observations were made that the church held a service beyond the designated capacity." 

Cpl. Deanna Fontaine added RCMP were consulting Alberta Health Services on "the next course of action." 

CTV News Edmonton has asked AHS if any action will be taken. 


Pastor James Coates is being held at the Edmonton Remand Centre for allegedly breaching an undertaking issued earlier in February to not violate Alberta's COVID-19 rules.

On Saturday, supporters said prayers for Coates outside of the correctional facility. One sign carried by a protester read, "Free the Preacher, Jail the Premier."

The protests continued on Sunday. 

Coates was taken into custody on Feb. 16. He attended a bail hearing and was set to be released on conditions, but kept in custody overnight "after refusing to agree to those conditions," RCMP said.

He and his church have disobeyed public health orders around physical distancing, gathering, mask wearing and singing for months, calling the science behind public health guidance "both suspect and selective" and restrictions a harm to public health.

Associate pastor Jacob Spenst, who lead Sunday's service in Coates' absence, said the leader was doing fine.

"More importantly, he wanted to let you know he loves you, he misses you dearly and certainly he's very concerned for this church," Spenst passed on.

"We need to remain strong even as he is remaining strong, even as the Lord strengthens him moment by moment, even as he continues to remain in jail."

With files from The Canadian Press