A Canadian pastor remains behind bars after violating Covid-19 restrictions by holding in-person services. Pastor James Coates of GraceLife Church in Edmonton turned himself early last week after being charged with contravention of the Public Health Act.
“He was charged with two counts of contravention of the Public Health Act and charged for failing to comply with a condition of his undertaking, under the Criminal Code," the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) said in a statement.
An environmental public health report from Alberta Health Services said that officials observed GraceLife holding a service on 14th February which was in clear violation of the current restrictions. "There were about 67 people in the sanctuary. Some within 2 meters of each other and the majority of people not wearing face masks," the report stated.
Under current Covid-19 guidelines, Alberta permits faith-based organisations to host gatherings of up to 15 per cent of their buildings' fire code capacity.
Despite his arrest, loyal church members flocked to GraceLife at the weekend, with officials warning them that they were breaking the rules. "Observations were made that the church held a service beyond the designated capacity," a police spokesperson said.
Associate pastor Jacob Spenst led the service, bringing a message from the imprisoned pastor, who is reportedly being held in quarantine in accordance with Covid-19 measures.
"He wanted to let you know he loves you, he misses you dearly and certainly he's very concerned for this church," Spenst told the congregation.
"We need to remain strong even as he is remaining strong, even as the Lord strengthens him moment by moment, even as he continues to remain in jail."
Coates was fined by public health officials back in December. In January, Alberta Health Services ordered the church to close. In February, Coates was arrested and charged in early February for contravention of the Public Health Act. The pastor turned himself in on Tuesday.
The pastor was due to be bailed last Wednesday but has been retained in custody after he told the judge in his case that he did not intend on abiding by the conditions of his release from a previous arrest. He is due to appear in court again on Wednesday.
Hundreds of church members have gathered outside the Edmonton Remand Centre in protest, with many holding signs calling for Coates' release. One demonstrator was arrested for “causing a disturbance”.
Another smaller group of protesters could be seen holding signs which read “Masks Save Lives” and “Hate Speech Not Welcome Here".