Approximately 400 Albertans gathered at the Stony Plain provincial courthouse on Saturday afternoon to rally for the release of Pastor James Coates.
Coates is a pastor at GraceLife Church, just west of Edmonton in Parkland County. He's been held in provincial custody since February 16, when he turned himself in for not complying with an order that would require him to limit his congregation to 15 per cent of fire code capacity.
Coates has been offered bail, but the conditions of his release would require him to limit his congregation, something his lawyer, James Kitchen of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, says that Coates is not able to do in good conscience.
GraceLife has been issued an executive order from the chief medical officer of health, Deena Hinshaw, requiring the church to close, and Pastor Coates has received a $1,200 fine for violating public health orders that are meant to control the attendance of his services. The church also does not require congregants to wear masks during worship services, as mandated by the provincial public health orders.
In spite of the arrest and incarceration of Pastor Coates, services have continued at GraceLife every Sunday.
Saturday's protest at the provincial courthouse is a continuance of last week's rally held at the Edmonton Remand Centre, the maximum security provincial facility where Coates is now finishing his 14-day COVID isolation as part of intake procedures. Protests outside of the Remand Centre trigger a cascade of security protocols inside the facility that include locking down the prisoners, so the protest was moved in order to avoid unintended consequences for the inmates including the pastor.
Although local mainstream media shot the protest from across the street using long range lenses and described it as just dozens, I was on hand with the protesters — some from the congregation and others who simply feel compelled to stand for religious liberty — to ask them how they felt about a Christian pastor being held as a political prisoner of conscience in Canada in 2021.