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US senator calls for Canada to be added to religious freedom watch list over pastor Covid-19 arrests

by Chantalle Edmunds
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Josh Hawley/Twitter

Missouri Republican senator Josh Hawley has asked for Canada to be investigated for violating religious freedom over the arrests of two Alberta pastors accused of flouting coronavirus restrictions.

Mr Hawley, 41, has released a letter asking his country's Commission on International Religious Freedom to consider putting Canada on its special watch list.

"I am troubled that our Canadian neighbours are effectively being forced to gather in secret, undisclosed locations to exercise their basic freedom to worship," Hawley wrote.

"Frankly, I would expect this sort of religious crackdown in Communist China, not in a prominent western nation like Canada."

Hawley refers in his letter to the arrests of Alberta pastors James Coates and Tim Stephens.

Pastor James Coates spent a month in a remand centre after he violated a bail condition not to hold church services that officials said were ignoring COVID-19 restrictions.  He was released March 22 after pleading guilty and was fined $1,500

Pastor Tim Stephens, from Fairview Baptist Church, was detained for the second time on 15th June after authorities discovered his church had been holding in-person services outdoors that surpassed the attendance cap currently in force in the area. 

In February this year, more than 16,000 Christians signed a petition demanding the cancellation of Josh Hawley's new book deal in the wake of his objection to President Joe Biden's Electoral College victory. There were also objections to a photo of Hawley giving a clenched-fist salute to the hordes outside the Capitol as he arrived on the day of the 6th January riots to press his challenge of the presidential election results.

A commission spokesperson said the agency is aware of Hawley's letter and is "looking into it."

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