Dozens held a peaceful march down Birch Avenue Saturday, Nov. 21. They carried signs to advocate for their freedoms and rights during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Patrick Davies photo - 100 Mile Free Press)

BC Supreme Court petition challenges public health orders

100 Mile church included in petition filed by Justice Centre of Constitutional Freedoms

The Justice Centre of Constitutional Freedoms is defending a 100 Mile House church that was issued a $2,300 violation ticket for allegedly violating COVID public health orders.

The 100 Mile House Baptist Church is among more than 16 individuals and faith-based organizations listed in a Supreme Court petition filed by the Justice Centre Jan. 7. The petition challenges the B.C. government’s public health orders on the basis that they “unjustifiably violate the rights and freedoms of B.C. residents protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

The petition also challenges the orders on the basis that they are unreasonable and exceed Dr. Bonnie Henry’s authority as Provincial Health Officer. The petition, which seeks a judicial review of the orders, will require B.C. to provide demonstrable justification in order to uphold them, Marty Moore, Justice Centre staff lawyer, said in a phone interview with the Free Press Monday.

“The petition challenges the public health orders which, as you know, puts severe restrictions on gatherings and events,” Moore said. “These have been interpreted to severely restrict fundamental charter rights – rights to protest and to gather for religious worship. There are dozens of houses of worship that have religious beliefs, and online gatherings are not sufficient to meet religious duties or duties to their members.”

Moore said a lot of churches don’t have the technology to hold online services, and many people rely on spiritual connection for mental health and emotional wellbeing. As non-religious support groups have been allowed to remain open, he said, it’s discriminatory that churches cannot do so.

He noted people can also go for dinner and sit six to a table with no masks, yet churches can’t hold a service with just five people even with the proper protocols in place. His organization has received hundreds of submissions from B.C. residents “deeply concerned about this issue,” he added.

“There are religious communities across the province who feel compelled, whether its religious to continue in-person services and in fact are continuing in-person services,” he said.

The 100 Mile Free Press has reached out to the pastor of the 100 Mile House Baptist Church for comment. The pastor was fined after police visited the church, located in the 5400 block of Tatton Station Rd., on Dec. 20 after multiple people contacted RCMP about a COVID-Related Measures (CRM) Act violation at an ongoing church service. Police said at the time that everyone seen exiting the church, including children, were not wearing masks.

The Calgary-based Justice Centre of Constitutional Freedoms is a Canadian legal organization and federally registered charity. It is funded by donations.

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