Although COVID restrictions are largely gone, The Church in the Vine as a legal entity and the church's co-lead pastor, Tracy Fortin, are standing trial on charges of obstruction of a public health officer this week in an Edmonton courtroom.
Fortin and the church stand accused of preventing a provincial health inspector from barging in to inspect the church as Sunday services were ongoing. The inspector had gained access to the church on two previous Sundays, which Fortin and her husband, Pastor Rodney Fortin, say disrupted the services and caused distress to congregants.
The inspector testified that she did stand in the sanctuary of the church and observed people praying, singing and worshipping but did not cause disruption.
The inspector also testified that she was part of a joint task force of municipal bylaw officers and Alberta Health Services officials whose job was to check churches for COVID compliance. Photographic evidence taken bylaw officers of people engaged in active worship and prayer was entered into evidence on Wednesday.
Tracy Fortin and some trusted congregants testified to screening admission to the church at the door after media reports of the church flaunting COVID rules, and after health officials entered the church without a warrant on two prior occasions.
Rodney Fortin testified to removing five people who were not coming to engage in worship from the church property, something he asserts is a requirement for entry.
Some of the COVID non-compliance problems reported within the church, according to the inspector, included people shaking hands, eating cinnamon buns, drinking coffee, hugging and singing.
However, the church faces no charges for violation of a public health order.
The prosecutor in the case is Karen Thorsrud, who is allowed to remain anonymous in the court room; however, no publication ban is in place to protect her identity.
She is the same Crown lawyer who argued for the continued incarceration of Pastor James Coates of Edmonton's Grace Life Church.
Coates spent 35 days in jail for failing to impose COVID regulations on his church, an act he said would violate his religious freedom. The Grace Life building was also seized by the province of Alberta for three months, forcing the congregation to meet underground in a secret location.
Church in the Vine testimony wrapped today, and the judge will render her verdict Friday, April 19 in Edmonton.
The church and the Fortin pastors are represented by James Kitchen, and their legal fees are being covered through crowdfunding donations to www.FightTheFines.com, a partnership with the registered Canadian charity, The Democracy Fund.
Any donations to www.FightTheFines.com or The Democracy Fund are eligible for a charitable tax receipt.