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

Just Posted

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw is asking Albertans to do their part by observing gathering limits, staying home if unwell, wearing masks and maintaining physical distance. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Three new Central zone COVID-19 deaths, Alberta adds 1,433 cases

Red Deer down to 802 active cases of COVID-19

File photo
Rimbey RCMP and Victim Services to host drive-thru license plate event

The drive-thru event was created to help prevent the theft of Rimbey citizen license plates.

Alberta’a chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Thursday that there are more than 328,000 vaccine appointments booked over the next seven days. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Alberta surpasses 2 million doses administered of COVID-19 vaccine

Red Deer down to 835 active cases of COVID-19

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney arrives at the 2021 budget in Edmonton, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021.
‘We did not unite around blind loyalty to one man’:Kenney faces internal call to quit

Senior backbench member Todd Loewen, in a letter posted on Facebook, called on Kenney to resign

Alberta continues to wrestle with high COVID-19 case numbers. (NIAID-RML via AP)
Red Deer up to 858 active cases of COVID-19

Province reports additional 1,799 cases of the virus

Marc Kielburger, screen left, and Craig Kielburger, screen right, appear as witnesses via video conference during a House of Commons finance committee in the Wellington Building in Ottawa on Tuesday, July 28, 2020. The committee is looking into Government Spending, WE Charity and the Canada Student Service Grant. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Trudeau didn’t violate conflict rules over WE Charity, watchdog says

Federal ethics commissioner Mario Dion found that former finance minister Bill Morneau did violate the rules

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam listens to a question during a news conference, in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Restrictions will lift once 75% of Canadians get 1 shot and 20% are fully immunized, feds say

Federal health officials are laying out their vision of what life could look like after most Canadians are vaccinated against COVID-19

Chris Scott, owner of The Whistle Stop Cafe, was put in handcuffs after an anti-restriction protest Saturday in the parking lot of the business. (Screenshot via The Whistle Stop Facebook page)
Alberta RCMP investigating possible threat to police after Mirror rally

Online images show RCMP members, vehicles in crosshairs of a rifle

An Israeli attack helicopter launches flares as he flies over the Israeli Gaza border, southern Israel, Thursday, May 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
Singh calls for halt on Canadian arms sales to Israel as violence escalates in region

Government data shows Canada sent $13.7 million in military goods and technology to Israel in 2019

New homes are built in a housing construction development in the west-end of Ottawa on Thursday, May 6, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Budget’s foreign-homebuyers tax could bring in $509 million over 4 years, PBO says

Liberals are proposing a one per cent tax on vacant homes owned by foreign non-residents

A Canadian flag patch is shown on a soldier’s shoulder in Trenton, Ont., on Thursday, Oct. 16, 2014. The Canadian Forces says it has charged one of its members in the death of an army reservist from British Columbia during a training exercise at a military base in Alberta last year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Lars Hagberg
Canadian Forces member charged in death of army reservist during training exercise

Cpl. Lars Callsen has been charged with one count of negligence

A youth plays basketball in an otherwise quiet court in Toronto on Saturday April 17, 2021. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association is urging the federal and provincial governments to fight COVID-19 pandemic by focusing on proven public health policy interventions including paid sick leave, and education rather than punitive enforcement measures. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
Provinces issued more COVID-19 tickets during 2nd wave: CCLA report

‘A pandemic is a public health, not a public order, crisis,’ reads the report

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a press conference in Ottawa on Tuesday, May 11, 2021. Trudeau is rejecting accusations from Alberta’s justice minister that his federal government is part of a trio rooting for that province’s health system to collapse due to COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Alberta justice minister sorry for saying feds, others rooting for COVID disaster

Earlier Tuesday, prior to Madu’s apology, Trudeau rejected the accusations

In this Monday, March 15, 2021 file photo a vial of AstraZeneca vaccine is pictured in a pharmacy in Boulogne Billancourt, outside Paris. Questions remained Wednesday about the future of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine in Canada, as Manitoba limited use of the shot and Ontario announced it planned to save an incoming shipment to use as second doses. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Christophe Ena, File
Questions remain about the future of the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot in Canada

More than two million Canadians have received AstraZeneca and 17 have been confirmed to have VITT

Most Read