Michael Swan

B.C. lawyers seek to ease restrictions on churches

By  Agnieszka Ruck, Canadian Catholic News
  • February 17, 2021

VANCOUVER -- Catholic lawyers in the Archdiocese of Vancouver are adding their voices to the growing numbers calling for the B.C. government to end its ban on worship services.

The St. Thomas More Catholic Lawyers Guild of B.C. is preparing a formal request to the Ministry of Health to ease the current restrictions on churches in time for Easter.

Lawyer Warren Smith said the guild is acting now after receiving no response to a letter sent in December to Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix. It asked the government to allow church services to resume, even if attendance is limited to 50 people.

Guild lawyer Robert Piasentin said at issue is the “inconsistency” of how health orders have been applied across the province.

“We’ve got a situation where there are other things people can do, whether its attend a restaurant or bar, go skiing, do these other events that have higher transmission rates … while opportunities to practise one’s faith have been curtailed entirely,” he said.

He pointed out before worship services were banned Nov. 19, churches had been capped at a maximum of 50 participants who were spread out, wearing masks and taking all other necessary precautions. Now, all public worship is banned, while in-person dining at restaurants and bars continues and exceeds 50 people in some cases.

“I don’t think that anyone would argue that a church should be allowed to gather and no one else should be allowed to gather,” Piasentin said. What’s concerning is “the inconsistency of the application.”

The guild noted an exemption to the ban has already been granted to B.C.’s Orthodox Jewish community after a synagogue argued its faith precludes the use of technology on the Sabbath.

B.C.’s ban on social gatherings and events, including church worship, has been extended indefinitely, but Henry has suggested planning could begin for resumption of faith services and other gatherings at the end of February.

There have been no COVID-19 outbreaks linked to Mass attendance in the Archdiocese of Vancouver. Currently, only up to 10 people are allowed to enter a church for private prayer or small wedding or funeral.

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms has filed a petition in B.C. Supreme Court arguing current health orders “unjustifiably infringe the rights and freedoms” of British Columbians. The St. Thomas More Guild is not part of that challenge.

Archbishop J. Michael Miller said the archdiocese “greatly appreciates” the initiative of the Catholic lawyers, who he said are “playing an active and responsible role” as citizens of this country.

“They understand the need to halt the spread of the coronavirus as well as to ensure that religious freedom, guaranteed by the Charter of Rights and Freedom, includes the right to public worship and can be restricted only for the most serious of reasons,” he said.

(The B.C. Catholic)

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