B.C. court maintains ban on church services

By  Agnieszka Ruck, Canadian Catholic News
  • March 24, 2021

VANCOUVER -- B.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson has upheld the public health order banning in-person religious services in British Columbia.

In a March 19 ruling, Hinkson said Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry’s reasons for prohibiting indoor religious gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic “do not exhibit a failure of internal rationality.”

“Gatherings and events are a route of transmission. Whether measures less intrusive than prohibition are effective depends on the prevalence of the virus in the community and behavioural factors,” Hinkson ruled.

He included information about incidents of transmission in religious settings, which showed about 220 COVID-19 cases have connections to religious gatherings, including a few weddings and funerals.

While maintaining the ban on in-person religious services, Hinkson showed support for public protest, ruling the ban on gatherings and events have no force or effect on Alain Beaudoin, a man who organized protests against government restrictions, saying they “unjustifiably infringe his rights and freedoms.”

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms represented Beaudoin and several churches in the case which was before the court in early March.

“We are pleased with the court’s decision upholding the charter rights of B.C. residents to protest but we are disappointed that the challenge to the prohibition on in-person religious worship was dismissed,” said the JCCF’s Paul Jaffe.

“We will be discussing this decision with our clients, including an appeal.”

Archbishop J. Michael Miller has also filed a petition with the B.C. Supreme Court on behalf of the Archdiocese of Vancouver, seeking an exemption to the ban for Catholics. That case has not yet been heard.

Warren Smith, a member of the St. Thomas More Catholic Lawyers Guild, told The B.C. Catholic Hinkson’s ruling does not prevent Miller’s case from going ahead.

“There are differences between each of these groups in terms of how they have approached attending religious services, how they have respected the current orders, how exactly attendance operates in the church,” he said.

“There are features that are unique to the Catholic faith including the Eucharist and the need for us to be in person for Mass to receive Holy Communion.”

While Miller’s case can still go ahead, “obviously this decision will have a bearing on how our action will be reviewed.”

The preliminary hearing is scheduled for March 29.

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