Pastor Stephens of Fairview Baptist Church in Calgary, Alberta, first came on the radar of health officials and police in April 2022, when he refused to limit his church to comply with covid restrictions on places of worship, which included social distancing, masking and attendance limits.
On May 16, 2021, Pastor Stephens was arrested after church for violating a court order that was issued to an unrelated third party, Chris Scott of the Whistlestop Cafe in Mirror, AB , which restricted Scott's ability to protest covid restrictions as an illegal public gathering. Stephens spent three days in jail before his release.
Pastor Stephens was again arrested on June 14, 2021, for having allegedly conducted an outdoor church service As a result, he spent an additional 18 days in jail before being released on July 1, 2021. At the time of his release, the Public Health Orders in question had been revoked.
In addition to spending a total of 21 days in jail, Pastor Stephens had also been served with six provincial tickets for his alleged breach of Alberta Public Health Orders. Four were previously dropped.
Sarah Miller, the longtime lawyer of another previously imprisoned Calgary pastor, Art Pawlowski said Stephen's acquittal is a win for legal clarity:
"with these CMOH orders, as far as we're aware, there's not been any real success on these. That's not to say that you can't impose chief medical officer of health orders (CMOH) that restrict certain movements, but like all legislative acts in government, they have to be clear, they have to be consistent, and you have to be able to know on the face of them what they mean and what they don't mean, and the crown bears the burden of proof to show that an actual offence has occurred."
The jailing of Stephens drew outrage around the world.
A statement issued by Stephen's lawyers with the Justice Centre For Constitutional Freedoms read:
“We are pleased that the Court has acquitted Pastor Stephens on the charges of not complying with a public health order. Pastor Stephens was illegally arrested and imprisoned for having allegedly violated the Public Health Orders, which have since been shown to be ineffective and harmful. This decision sets the record straight about the justifiability of his actions and about the importance of respecting Charter rights and freedoms.”