Pastor James Coates of GraceLife church was remanded in custody after refusing to abide by conditions of his release pending trial. (Pixabay.com)

Pastor James Coates of GraceLife church was remanded in custody after refusing to abide by conditions of his release pending trial. (Pixabay.com)

Pastor of Alberta church accused of breaking COVID-19 health rules held in custody

Recent Sunday services have had up to 300 members

An Alberta pastor was in custody Wednesday after being charged by police a second time with breaking public health rules tied to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pastor James Coates of GraceLife church was remanded in custody after refusing to abide by conditions of his release pending trial, police said.

He is to appear in court Feb. 24.

“We’ve been consistent in our approach of escalated levels of enforcement with Pastor Coates, and we were hopeful to resolve this issue in a different manner,” RCMP Insp. Mike Lokken said in a news release.

“The pastor’s actions and the subsequent effects those actions could have on the health and safety of citizens dictated our response.”

The church, located just west of Edmonton, has been defying health orders for weeks, holding services that officials say break health rules on maximum attendance, masking and distancing.

Recent Sunday services have had up to 300 members, and Coates was charged a second time after police said last Sunday’s service again broke health rules

Faith-based services are limited to 15 per cent of normal capacity and mask use is mandatory. Physical distancing between households must be maintained. There can be choir singing and music, but performers must wear masks.

It’s the latest in an escalating confrontation with the church since renewed health restrictions were imposed by the province in December.

Coates has addressed the issue in his sermons, telling worshippers that governments exist only as instruments of God and must follow God’s plan, which includes unfettered freedom of worship.

He said when governments fail to follow God’s plan, churches have a duty to challenge and push them back onto the proper path.

“We must call government to its God-ordained duty,” Coates told the congregation at last Sunday’s sermon, which was later archived to social media.

“(Any) attempt to dictate to us the terms of worship is not the government’s jurisdiction, and I refuse to give the government what isn’t theirs. Caesar has no jurisdiction here.”

The police fined the church $1,200 in December. A closure order was issued in January, but it was ignored.

When the Sunday services continued, Coates was charged Feb. 7 with one count of violating the Public Health Act, and he was released.

Police said they charged Coates again after last Sunday’s service and also charged him with violating his promise to abide by rules of his release, a Criminal Code offence.

“Following a bail hearing before a justice of the peace, Coates was to be released (Tuesday) on conditions,” said the RCMP news release.

“He remained in custody overnight after refusing to agree to those conditions. This morning in Stony Plain provincial court he continued to refuse to agree with those conditions.”

The move comes as provincial health officials continue to impose restrictions on all public activity to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus, noting that new and more contagious strains have the potential to spread quickly and overwhelm the health system.

On Tuesday, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s the chief medical officer of health, said the majority of businesses, community organizations and faith-based groups are following the rules. But she said she is disappointed at the outliers who put others at risk.

At Sunday’s service, Coates told the congregation that he, too, is concerned that the virus could overwhelm the health system. But he said if that happens, he’ll pitch in to help and will urge others to do the same.

Hinshaw said COVID-19 care requires specialists, and if the pandemic expands to the point the health system is swamped, mass volunteerism can’t fix it.

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Coronavirus

Just Posted

The City of Red Deer sits at 249 active cases of the virus, after hitting a peak of 565 active cases on Feb. 22. (Black Press file image)
Red Deer down to 119 active COVID-19 cases

Province identifies 179 new cases Saturday

Member Terry Parsons’ custom built track vehicle.
Forestburg’s Area 53 Racetrack gears up for action-packed season

Site will also host a portion of the ‘Miles of Mayhem’ event in July

Sabrina Wilde in front of a recently purchased monster truck. Submitted.
Thorsby business women a finalist for 2021 Alberta Women’s Entrepreneurship Award

Sabrina Wilde with Lone Wolf Mechanical is a finalist for the entrepreneurial award.

Grade 12 students at Wetaskiwin Composite High School took place in the annual water fight off school property on June 11, 2021. Shaela Dansereau/ Pipestone Flyer.
Graduating students in Wetaskiwin throw water fight after being told it could result in suspension

Students were told their participation could result in them being barred from graduation ceremonies.

At an outdoor drive-in convocation ceremony, Mount Royal University bestows an honorary Doctor of Laws on Blackfoot Elder and residential school survivor Clarence Wolfleg in Calgary on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘You didn’t get the best of me’: Residential school survivor gets honorary doctorate

Clarence Wolfleg receives honorary doctorate from Mount Royal University, the highest honour the school gives out

Flowers and cards are left at a makeshift memorial at a monument outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School to honour the 215 children whose remains are believed to have been discovered buried near the city in Kamloops, B.C., on Monday, May 31, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
‘Pick a Sunday:’ Indigenous leaders ask Catholics to stay home, push for apology

Indigenous leaders are calling on Catholics to stand in solidarity with residential school survivors by not attending church services

“They will never be forgotten, every child matters,” says Sioux Valley Chief Jennifer Bone in a video statement June 1. (Screen grab)
104 ‘potential graves’ detected at site of former residential school in Manitoba

Sioux Valley Dakota Nation working to identify, repatriate students buried near former Brandon residential school

Denmark’s Christian Eriksen receives medical attention after collapsing during the Euro 2020 soccer championship group B match between Denmark and Finland at Parken stadium in Copenhagen, Saturday, June 12, 2021. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner, Pool)
Christian Eriksen in stable condition, Euro 2020 match resumes

Eriksen was given chest compressions after collapsing on the field during a European Championship

As stories of the horrors of residential schools circulate after the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation announced it had located what are believed to be the remains of 215 children, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs said he feels a connection with the former students. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
2 sides of the same coin: Ex-foster kids identify with residential school survivors

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip says the child welfare system takes Indigenous children from their families

Airport ground crew offload a plane carrying just under 300,000 doses of the single-shot Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine which is developed by the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies at Pearson International Airport during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Wednesday, April 28, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
1st batch of Johnson & Johnson vaccines won’t be released in Canada over quality concerns

The vaccines were quarantined in April before they were distributed to provinces

The arrest south of Winnipeg occurred before Bernier was to arrive at a protest in the city. (Twitter/Maxime Bernier)
Maxime Bernier arrested following anti-rules rallies in Manitoba: RCMP

He’s been charged with exceeding public gathering limits and violating Manitoba’s requirement to self-isolate

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives for the G7 Summit, at the airport in Newquay, United Kingdom, Thursday, June 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Details on Canada’s vaccine sharing plan coming Sunday, up to 100 million doses

Canada’s high commissioner to the UK says details will come after the G7 summit

Most Read