Pastor James Coates of GraceLife church was remanded in custody after refusing to abide by conditions of his release pending trial. (Pixabay.com)

Pastor James Coates of GraceLife church was remanded in custody after refusing to abide by conditions of his release pending trial. (Pixabay.com)

Pastor of Alberta church accused of breaking COVID-19 health rules held in custody

Recent Sunday services have had up to 300 members

An Alberta pastor was in custody Wednesday after being charged by police a second time with breaking public health rules tied to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pastor James Coates of GraceLife church was remanded in custody after refusing to abide by conditions of his release pending trial, police said.

He is to appear in court Feb. 24.

“We’ve been consistent in our approach of escalated levels of enforcement with Pastor Coates, and we were hopeful to resolve this issue in a different manner,” RCMP Insp. Mike Lokken said in a news release.

“The pastor’s actions and the subsequent effects those actions could have on the health and safety of citizens dictated our response.”

The church, located just west of Edmonton, has been defying health orders for weeks, holding services that officials say break health rules on maximum attendance, masking and distancing.

Recent Sunday services have had up to 300 members, and Coates was charged a second time after police said last Sunday’s service again broke health rules

Faith-based services are limited to 15 per cent of normal capacity and mask use is mandatory. Physical distancing between households must be maintained. There can be choir singing and music, but performers must wear masks.

It’s the latest in an escalating confrontation with the church since renewed health restrictions were imposed by the province in December.

Coates has addressed the issue in his sermons, telling worshippers that governments exist only as instruments of God and must follow God’s plan, which includes unfettered freedom of worship.

He said when governments fail to follow God’s plan, churches have a duty to challenge and push them back onto the proper path.

“We must call government to its God-ordained duty,” Coates told the congregation at last Sunday’s sermon, which was later archived to social media.

“(Any) attempt to dictate to us the terms of worship is not the government’s jurisdiction, and I refuse to give the government what isn’t theirs. Caesar has no jurisdiction here.”

The police fined the church $1,200 in December. A closure order was issued in January, but it was ignored.

When the Sunday services continued, Coates was charged Feb. 7 with one count of violating the Public Health Act, and he was released.

Police said they charged Coates again after last Sunday’s service and also charged him with violating his promise to abide by rules of his release, a Criminal Code offence.

“Following a bail hearing before a justice of the peace, Coates was to be released (Tuesday) on conditions,” said the RCMP news release.

“He remained in custody overnight after refusing to agree to those conditions. This morning in Stony Plain provincial court he continued to refuse to agree with those conditions.”

The move comes as provincial health officials continue to impose restrictions on all public activity to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus, noting that new and more contagious strains have the potential to spread quickly and overwhelm the health system.

On Tuesday, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s the chief medical officer of health, said the majority of businesses, community organizations and faith-based groups are following the rules. But she said she is disappointed at the outliers who put others at risk.

At Sunday’s service, Coates told the congregation that he, too, is concerned that the virus could overwhelm the health system. But he said if that happens, he’ll pitch in to help and will urge others to do the same.

Hinshaw said COVID-19 care requires specialists, and if the pandemic expands to the point the health system is swamped, mass volunteerism can’t fix it.

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Coronavirus

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

Just Posted

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw acknowledged that Friday would be one year since the first case of COVID-19 was identified in the province. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Three more Red Deer COVID-19 deaths, 331 active cases in Alberta

Red Deer is down to 362 active cases of the virus

The remains of Terry Bearden’s property before a demolition crew came in to remove debris. (Photo submitted)
Rimbey arson case may have a lead thanks to reward offered by owner

Anonymous tip alleges the fire was set by three local males

hands
The call is out in Rimbey to sign on with a group that is all about building connections

‘Already, we are building a network where we can rely on each other and help each other out’

Alberta's chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw says Albertans need to keep making safe choices to start bending the curve back down. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
One new COVID-19 death in Red Deer, 257 additional cases province-wide

Red Deer sits at 459 active cases of the virus

A health-care worker looks at a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at the Palais de Congress site as Quebec begins mass vaccinations based on age across the province, Monday, March 1, 2021 in Montreal.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Nearly 1 million COVID-19 vaccine doses arriving in Canada this week: Anand

Anita Anand says she’s received assurances from the vaccine manufacturer

(AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)
Pandemic stress, isolation key factors as to why Canadians turned to cannabis, alcohol

Study found that isolation played key role in Canadians’ substance use

Backcountry skiers are dwarfed by the mountains as they make their way along a mountain ridge near McGillivray Pass Lodge located in the southern Chilcotin Mountains of British Columbia, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2012. Avalanche Canada has issued a special warning to people who use the backcountry in the mountains of western Alberta and eastern British Columbia. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Avalanche Canada special warning for mountains in western Alberta, eastern B.C.

Avalanche Canada also says everyone in a backcountry party needs essential rescue gear

A vial of some of the first 500,000 of the two million AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses that Canada has secured through a deal with the Serum Institute of India in partnership with Verity Pharma at a facility in Milton, Ont., on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Carlos Osorio - POOL
Federal panel recommends 4-month gap between COVID vaccine doses due to limited supply

The recommendation applies to all COVID-19 vaccines currently approved in Canada

FILE - Dolly Parton arrives at the 61st annual Grammy Awards on Feb. 10, 2019, in Los Angeles. The Grammy-winning singer, actor and humanitarian posted a video on Tuesday, March 2, 2021, of her singing just before getting her COVID-19 vaccine shot. Parton donated $1 million to Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee for coronavirus research. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP, File)
‘Vaccine, vaccine’: Dolly sings ‘Jolene’ rewrite before shot

The Grammy-winning legend turned 75 this year

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland speaks about the Fiscal update during a news conference in Ottawa, Monday November 30, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
COVID-19: Wage and rent subsidies, lockdown support to be extended until June

Chrystia Freeland says now is not time to lower levels of support

Many rural seniors are having to travel a long way to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Stettler residents are being told to go to Red Deer, Drumheller or Camrose. (Black Press file photo).
Rural central Alberta seniors have to travel far to get vaccines

Stettler residents are being directed to Red Deer, Drumheller or Camrose clinics

Samantha Sharpe, 25, was stabbed to death at Sunchild First Nation on Dec. 12, 2018. Chelsey Lagrelle was sentenced to 4.5 years in prison for manslaughter in a Red Deer courtroom on Tuesday. Photo contributed
Central Alberta woman sentenced to 4 1/2 years for stabbing friend to death in 2018

Chelsey Lagrelle earlier pleaded guilty to stabbing Samantha Sharpe during argument

Calgary police say they received 80 hate crime complaints between January and November 2020. (Pixabay)
‘Racism is a real problem:’ Muslim women fearful following attacks in Edmonton

So far in 2021, three of seven hate-crime-related investigations have involved Somali-Muslim women

Most Read