85 days of captivity: Alberta government to release GraceLife Church from its temporary jail

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After already spending 85 days in captivity, the GraceLife Church building will be returned to the congregation.

The Alberta government has announced it will pack up its temporary church jail, the porta-potties and mall cops, and retreat on July 1.

The church was seized in a dawn raid on April 7, when RCMP, Alberta Health Services, Paladin Security and a fencing company took over the church property after first issuing a closure notice to the church in January. The congregation has continued to meet in secret rotating locations, despite threats of fines and imprisonment.

The church and its pastor, James Coates, received fines after the congregation took a principled stance to oppose the lockdown restrictions on places of worship — refusing to limit capacity, wear masks and social distance, stating that the requirements violated their rights to freedom of expression, religion and assembly.

The church and pastor were both fined thousands of dollars, and Coates spent 35 days in the maximum security Edmonton Remand Centre for failing to comply with public health orders.

Coates stood trial in May and Judge Robert Shaigec had previously ruled that his Charter rights were not violated when he was ticketed back in December.

However, the release of the church property does not signal a change in course in the Alberta government.

The government is moving to stage three of reopening on July 1 and thus lifting most pandemic restrictions. Another pastor, Tim Stephens of Fairview Baptist in Calgary, remains in jail for violating public health orders and his congregation’s building is also in the custody of the province.

Pastor Coates and GraceLife are being represented by the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms.

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