An Alberta lawyer is representing a Prince Albert pastor fined $14,000 for violating the public health act after his church congregation sang without masks.
Sarah Miller from Calgary law firm Jensen Shawa Solomon Duguid Hawkes LLP confirmed with the Battlefords Regional News-Optimist that she is representing Vern Temple, Pastor of the Full Gospel Church in Prince Albert.
“I took this case because I am concerned with the ‘laws’ being made across the country by non-legislators. Orders, like the current Public Health Order made Nov. 26, 2020, for Saskatchewan, are being published at a fast rate with seemingly little regard for any other aspect of society besides public health.”
Miller said the COVID-19 response is unprecedented, and law enforcement is scrambling to find ways to enforce laws, which never existed before.
“Often, I’ve seen their inexperience with these new structures result in misapplication of the law and Charter breaches.”
The church’s first court appearance is scheduled in Prince Albert Provincial Court on March 1.
COVID-19 cases traced to church
Dr. Saqib Shahab, Saskatchewan’s Chief Medical Officer, said there were at least 86 cases of COVID-19 traced back to the Prince Albert church.
Full Gospel Church Pastor Vern Temple, however, says the member of the congregation that caught COVID-19 got it from working at a casino.
The inner-city church runs an outreach program, helping the most vulnerable in Prince Albert and area, including the homeless and drug addicted.
When the COVID-19 outbreak started, the chief of Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation said a woman from Southend tested positive for COVID-19 after attending a church in Prince Albert and a funeral in Pelican Narrows.
English River First Nation said someone who attended Prince Albert's Full Gospel Outreach Centre and a gospel concert in Beauval tested positive for COVID-19.
Pastor Temple told other media that they offered masks at the door but added that street people are the hardest to manage.
“They are used to not washing hands once a day, once a week, how do you enforce that?”
In October Prince Albert Mayor Greg Dionne called on the provincial government to fine Pastor Temple and the Full Gospel Church, which was blamed for a COVID-19 outbreak that spread to northern communities.
Pastor Temple accused Prince Albert Mayor Greg Dionne of jumping at any opportunity to shut down the Full Gospel Church.
“They want to take our building, close it down and demolish it, for no consideration of what we are trying to do, reach out to marginalized people.
“The mayor doesn’t understand the people we are trying to minister to, and if he doesn’t understand the people we are trying to minister to, then he doesn’t understand us.”
The Prince Albert mayor was contacted for comment but he hasn’t yet responded.
Evangelist Ian Lavallee, who led church services at Prince Albert’s Full Gospel Church, posted a photo on Facebook showing the September church service that seems to show a room with dozens of people not physically distancing or wearing masks.
Lavellee was fined $2,800 under the public health order.
Justice Centre successfully fights COVID-19 tickets
So far, all COVID-related tickets issued to demonstrators in Alberta that the Justice Centrehas defended have been withdrawn by Crown Prosecutors.
“COVID-19 has not suspended the rule of law or displaced the constitution as the supreme law of the land,” said Justice Centre lawyer James Kitchen.
“Even during a declared public health emergency, the Charter continues to protect the right of people to peacefully gather in public places and demonstrate their opposition to the loss of their civil liberties and oppressive government policies.”
The Justice Centre is also representing Ryan Audette, a Calgary man who was issued two tickets on Dec. 2 while exercising his Charter rights to attend a peaceful protest against lockdowns. An estimated one thousand people participated in the “Walk for Freedom” rally, which took place outdoors in downtown Calgary.
“In a free and equal society, all people have the right to peacefully protest at public places regardless of whether the police consider the protest to be politically correct or not,” said Kitchen.
Manitoba reverses ban on drive-in church services
Earlier this week the Manitoba government reversed its ban on drive-in religious services after the Justice Centre sent a legal warning letter on Dec. 2 saying the public health order violated Canada’s Charter of Rights that protects fundamental freedoms of religion and peaceful assembly.
“The COVID-19 pandemic does not suspend the protection of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, or the rights of Canadians,” said Justice Centre staff lawyer, Allison Pejovic,
“This is a small victory for Manitoba churches whose congregants are desperate to worship together, even if it’s just from their cars in a church parking lot.”