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'I don't believe Covid-19 is a serious threat to our people': Trial starts for Canadian pastor jailed for breaking Covid rules

by Kelly Valencia

 The trial for a Canadian pastor who spent 35 days in jail for encouraging his church to breach coronavirus restrictions has started. 

James Coates, lead pastor of Grace Life church, is facing a charge of breaking the Public Health Act by holding in-person services exceeding the coronavirus capacity limit and ignoring distancing rules required by authorities in the area. 

He was first fined in December but was jailed in February after authorities attended the church and saw further violations. Coates was then released in March and fined over £1,000.

On Monday, the father of two took to the stand as a witness. 

"We never wanted this public position that we've been given," Coates told the jury. "It came to us. We'd happily resign all of it to be able to worship quietly on Sundays without all this attention." 

Although Coates admitted that the core allegations were accurate, he argued the coronavirus restrictions in the area are unconstitutional and directly restrict the church's right to freedom of worship. 

He also explained that he had complied with the initial coronavirus restrictions as they moved the services online, but because the most senior government official in Alberta, Jason Kenney, had referred to the virus as an "influenza", it led them to believe that the virus was not very serious.

Coates added the church had developed their own tracing system when they found two members who tested positive for Covid-19 and said the church has been coronavirus-free for the last 37 weeks. 

"I don't believe that Covid-19 poses a serious health risk to our people," he continued.

The pastor is being represented by Leighton Grey and James Kitchen, lawyers with the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms.

The trial is scheduled to run for four days.

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