Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson (Office of the Chief Justice)

Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson (Office of the Chief Justice)

B.C. is ‘stereotyping’ churches as riskier for COVID than other spaces, lawyer argues

Judge said that freedom of expression, religion are not at issue in the case

A lawyer representing churches in their battle to fight B.C.’s COVID restrictions on in-person worship took aim at the province Tuesday (March 2), arguing that officials are singling out churches as being more dangerous than other spaces.

“Gatherings of people don’t become more risky based on the subject of discussion,” argued Paul Jaffe in B.C. Supreme Court. He pointed to bars, restaurants and stores that remain open, while in-person church services have been banned since November. Religious institutions themselves remain open for solo visits.

The three-day trial, expected to end Wednesday, is being brought by the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, which represents a group of church and individuals in the province.

Jaffe said that a very small number of cases have been connected to religious settings, citing churches that have taken similar safety measures as establishments that are allowed to remain operate.

That, Jaffe, argued, limits freedom of expression.

“You don’t target people based on what they’re saying,” he said.

But B.C. Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson said that freedom of expression and religious freedom aren’t what is at issue in this case in his eyes.

“They’re free to have whatever religious views they wish,” Hinkson said. “No one is saying they’re not allowed to express their views.”

However, lawyer Gareth Morley, who works for the legal services branch of the Attorney General Ministry, said that comparable activities in religious settings are allowed to continue, including faith-based schools, Sunday school and limited religious marriage ceremonies.

Jaffe argued that the form of expression was also important. He said that while virtual church services exist for congregants, in-person gatherings are “absolutely integral to their faith” and that “it’s very painful to these people” to be separated from in-person worship services.

Morley said it is agreed that the province is in the middle of a pandemic.

“And measures taken to protect public health, to protect lives, to protect people from serious illness, and to protect the ability of the health-care system itself to respond, that those are the sorts of measures that can limit charter rights, including freedom of religion.”

Henry has a duty under the Constitution to “proportionally and reasonably” limit freedoms by preventing the gathering of people to ensure their health and safety, Morley said.

Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson asked who decides whether the limits are proportional or reasonable, adding that he wants to understand how the provincial health officer is making her decisions.

“Aren’t the churches entitled to know why if you go to the bar and watch a hockey game for an hour or two, you can’t sit in a church for an hour or two? It is a point I struggle with.”

Hinkson said he understands Henry has a difficult job, but she hasn’t explained why or how she is making the decisions.

“If she chooses not to share her thought process with the court, there’s no oversight,” he said.

Morley said the decisions are made after careful review by health officials and experts.

So balancing religious rights and protecting people from an “out-of-control epidemic” is a matter of judgment, he said, adding that Henry met with religious leaders and health officials while making her decisions.

READ MORE: B.C. churches in court to attempt to overturn ban on in-person services

– with files from The Canadian Press


@katslepian

katya.slepian@bpdigital.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

Riverside Calvary Church in Walnut Grove. (Langley Advance Times file)

Riverside Calvary Church in Walnut Grove. (Langley Advance Times file)

Just Posted

A protester holds a sign on Yale Road near Hodgins Avenue during the Fraser Valley Freedom Rally on Saturday, April 3, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
OPINION: Freedom, yes, but don’t forget about responsibility

‘Freedom makes a huge requirement of every human being’

A man holds a child while speaking with RCMP following an erratic driving incident on Highway 1 in Chilliwack on Friday, April 16, 2021. The child and a woman (but not this man) were in this Jeep Grand Cherokee which hit a barrier and a parked car on Highway 1 and continued driving. The vehicle finally exited the highway at Yale Road West and came to a stop. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Video captures woman driving erratically with child after hitting barrier, car on Hwy 1 in Chilliwack

Smoke seen coming from SUV as it continues to travel eastbound of shoulder of highway

An undated picture of the Hope Station House. (Photo/Save The Hope Station House)
Hope council must consider all options for Station House: B.C. Ombudsperson

Investigation ‘revealed flaws in District’s process,’ statement said

April 16, 2021 is the 130th anniversary of the first edition of The Chilliwack Progress, the oldest community newspaper in British Columbia. The first four-page Progress was printed on April 16, 1891.
PHOTO GALLERY: Today is the 130th anniversary of The Chilliwack Progress

British Columbia’s oldest community newspaper’s first edition was April 16, 1891

Fire crews battle a large wildfire north of Highway 1 at Yale Road West on Thursday, April 15, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
PHOTOS w/ VIDEO: Large 10-hectare wildfire ‘not quite contained’ day after it started in Chilliwack

Chilliwack Fire Department completing hot-spot controls, foot patrols of area on day two

Rainbow trouts thrashing with life as they’re about to be transferred to the largest lake of their lives, even though it’s pretty small. These rainbows have a blue tinge because they matched the blue of their hatchery pen, but soon they’ll take on the green-browns of their new home at Lookout Lake. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
VIDEO: B.C. lake stocked with hatchery trout to delight of a seniors fishing club

The Cherish Trout Scouts made plans to come back fishing soon

Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops. (Dave Eagles/Kamloops This Week file photo)
RCMP intercept vehicle fleeing with infant taken from Kamloops hospital

The baby was at the hospital receiving life-saving care

Former Pitt Meadows city councillor David Murray was convicted of sex assault, and is now being sued by the victim. (files)
Former Pitt Meadows city councillor sued for sex assault

David Murray was convicted in 2017 of sexually assaulting a teen 25 years earlier

Vancouver Police Const. Deepak Sood is under review by the Independent Investigations Office of B.C. after making comments to a harm reduction advocate Sunday, April 11. (Screen grab)
VIDEO: Vancouver officer convicted of uttering threats under watchdog review again

Const. Deepak Sood was recorded Sunday saying ‘I’ll smack you’ and ‘go back to selling drugs’ to a harm reduction advocate

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry prepares a daily update on the coronavirus pandemic, April 21, 2020. (B.C. Government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate persists, 1,005 new cases Friday

Hospitalization up to 425, six more virus-related deaths

Premier John Horgan receives a dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at the pharmacy in James Bay Thrifty’s Foods in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, April 16, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. Premier John Horgan gets AstraZeneca shot, encourages others

27% of residents in B.C. have now been vaccinated against COVID-19

The Nautical Dog Cafe at Skaha marina is getting its patio ready in hopes Mother Nature will provide where provincial restrictions have taken away indoor dining. (Facebook)
‘A lot of instability’: B.C. restaurants in layoff limbo

As COVID-19 cases stay high, restaurants in British Columbia are closed to indoor dining

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau looks on as Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland responds to a question during a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Expectations high as Trudeau Liberals get ready to unveil first pandemic budget

The Liberals will look to thread an economic needle with Monday’s budget

Most Read