Three Fraser Valley churches may continue to have in-person services after B.C. Supreme Court Feb. 17 dismissed a B.C. government application for an injunction to stop worshippers from allegedly breaking pandemic regulations against large gatherings.
The ruling from Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson came as part of the churches’ attempt to have overturned a November health order banning certain in-person gatherings including places of worship or other religious services as well as other such events.
The ban came with the COVID-19 Related Measures Act.
“To be clear, I am not condoning the petitioners’ conduct in contravention of the orders that they challenge, but find that the injunctive relief sought by the respondents should not be granted,” Hinkson said.
Immanuel Covenant Reformed Church, Riverside Calvary Chapel and the Free Reformed Church of Chilliwack believe the order is unfair and discriminatory, and have filed a court petition seeking to have it overturned. The case will be heard March 1.
However, provincial health officials sought an interim order stopping the services.
Officials asserted in-door religious services could increase COVID-19 infection chances and encourage viral spread.
Hinkson noted the churches asserted they had engaged in multiple anti-COVID-19 protocols to keep parishioners safe.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry had written to the Chilliwack Free Reformed Church Dec. 18.
“I have weighed the needs of persons to attend in-person religious services with the need to protect the health of the public,” Henry said. “The limitations on in-person attendance at worship services in the orders is precautionary and is based on current and projected epidemiological evidence. It is my opinion that prohibiting in-person gatherings and worship services is necessary to protect people from transmission of the virus in these settings.”
Hinkson said the case involves balancing two possible irreparable harms. First, the harm brought about from contraction of COVID-19, including death; and, second, the harm from the deprivation of the parishioners’ constitutional rights.
Hinkson said, with the options available to the government, the balance of convenience favours the churches.
“I have reservations that an injunction alone, without enforcement by the B.C. Prosecution Service, would overcome the deeply held beliefs of the petitioners and their devotees,” Hinkson said.