Though Manitoba’s contending political parties pledged no more COVID lockdowns, five churches in the province are seeking justice for ‘unjustly’ applied pandemic closures.
The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, representing the five churches, including plaintiff Tobias Tissen — a pastor at one of the churches — announced Tuesday they had filed an application with the Supreme Court of Canada.
“We hope that the Supreme Court of Canada agrees that constitutional issues surrounding closing churches and curbing outdoor protests during a pandemic are worth the Court’s attention and adjudication,” said lawyer Allison Pejovic.
“Canadians would like to understand whether the Charter’s protections can be easily cast aside during a pandemic, while non-Charter-protected activities with an economic interest remain open and operational.”
In late 2020, Manitoba ordered churches to close in-person religious services while other businesses remained open.
They also ordered outdoor gathering limits to five people despite large retailers operating without similarly restrictive mandates.
The Justice Centre alleges a ruling on the constitutionality of church closures and restrictions on outdoor gatherings is of national importance despite the Manitoba Court of Appeal dismissing an appeal in June.
The plaintiffs openly challenged the church closures, citing Charter breaches by the province. The Justice Centre said the province of Manitoba violated the Charter rights to worship, express themselves, and assemble.
In May 2021, the Manitoba Court of King’s Bench ruled in favour of the province. Chief Justice Glenn Joyal said the infringement of Charter rights is justified under section one of the Charter.
However, he did not order the churches to pay the government’s court costs due to the public interest of the case.
At the time, Justice Centre president John Carpay hired a private investigator to follow Joyal while he presided over the case.
Carpay temporarily stepped down from the firm, facing a ban from practicing law in the province with a $5,000 fine that he paid.