Pastor James Coates of Edmonton's GraceLife Church is set to be released in the next few days after Crown prosecutors have agreed to withdraw all but one of his charges related to keeping his church open during the province's COVID lockdown.
According to his legal representation at the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms:
The Justice Centre will defend Pastor Coates on one remaining charge of violating an Order of the Chief Medical Officer of Health by challenging the lawfulness of the public health order that he is charged with violating.
The Pastor of Grace Life Church near Edmonton has been incarcerated in the Edmonton Remand Centre for a month, since February 16. It is expected that Pastor Coates could be released from jail as early as Friday, March 19.
Pastor Coates was arrested by authorities in Alberta after he allowed, and led, services at GraceLife in contravention of the province's restrictions on public gatherings. Currently, Alberta is only allowing religious gatherings to operate at 15 per cent of the buildings fire code capacity.
Refusing to adhere to the capacity limitations and not forcing congregants to wear masks eventually led to a $1,200 fine and subsequent surveillance by Alberta government officials. Ultimately, GraceLife received an executive order to close the church from the province's Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw.
On February 7, pastor Coates was arrested in his office, though he was released. Following his release, the pastor then returned to holding services the next weeked, February 14, as he had been doing, and once more run afoul of police. Pastor Coates was asked to turn himself in and did so the on February 16.
Pastor Coates would then be placed in custody at Edmonton's Remand Centre — a maximum security prison. Despite the province previously releasing low-risk offenders due to COVID-19 concerns, the pastor remained behind bars.
The pastor was presented with bail terms that, according to his lawyer, James Kitchen from the Justice Centre, were directives he could not follow in good conscience.
Protesters demonstrated in support of pastor Coates, and more churches opened in a show of solidarity and defiance against the pastor's detention and the restrictions on religious gatherings.
In spite of pastor Coates being behind bars, GraceLife continued on as it had when he was leading services, with his supporters vowing to continue to have a new pastor each week if necessary, should the government continue to arrest the church's leaders.
The next legal hurdle for pastor Coates was a bail hearing to determine whether the requirements of the pastor were excessive or appropriate. Justice Peter Michalyshyn deemed that they were, and the pastor was expected to remain in the Remand Centre until his trial in May — despite the fact that the potential punishment pastor Coates could receive would not actually result in jail time.