B.C. prosecutors have dropped 24 tickets against pastors and churches that allegedly violated COVID-19 health order restrictions on public gatherings in late 2020 and 2021.
Pastor John Koopman of Chilliwack Free Reformed Church, Pastor James Butler of Free Grace Baptist Church and Pastor Timothy Champ of Valley Heights Community Church, participated in worship services with stringent safety protocols in place beginning in November 2020.
“I can confirm that the charges described in your email have been stayed. The charges were stayed when the Crown counsel with conduct of the files concluded the charge assessment standard was no longer met,” BC Prosecution Service (BCPS) spokesperson Dan McLaughlin said.
“As other similar charges remain before the court, the BCPS will have no further comment,” he said.
The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, which had represented the pastors, said police began ticketing churches despite safety precautions.
“In response to COVID, there has been a serious failure of government officials and authorities in B.C. to respect the Charter freedoms of B.C. residents,” centre lawyer Marty Moore said.
The centre said Koopman was facing charges on 23 tickets totalling $52,900, Butler on 25 tickets totalling $57,500, and Champ on 18 tickets totalling $41,400.
On May 4 and 6, seven tickets against Koopman, 11 against Butler and six against Champ were dropped.
However, 20 tickets issued against pastors and Fraser Valley churches remain outstanding, the centre said.
The centre has pledged to “ vigorously defend pastors and churches against these charges in future appearances in provincial court.”
Before the stays issued on May 4 and 6, 2022, the Crown had, prior to Feb. 17, 2022, stayed 25 other tickets issued to B.C. pastors. To date, the Crown has dropped more than four dozen tickets issued to B.C. churches represented by the Justice Centre.
“B.C. discriminated against houses of worship, prohibiting them from meeting for worship regardless of the safety measures they implemented,” Moore said. “Twenty-five people could attend an indoor workout class, 50 people could go to a support group, but not even five people were permitted to gather for religious worship in a church, masjid, gurdwara, temple or synagogue under the provincial health orders.”