Hundreds protested outside of the Edmonton Remand Centre on Saturday for the release of Pastor James Coates.
Pastor Coates has been held since February 16 at the Remand Centre for failing to comply with public health orders to close his church, GraceLife, west of Edmonton.
GraceLife is subject to an executive order from the province's Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw to close, because the church does not require congregants to wear masks and has not limited worship services to the provincial mandate of 15 per cent of fire code capacity.
Coates was initially issued a $1,200 public health fine, before first being arrested on February 7. Police were then on hand on February 14, but did not arrest Coates. Instead, Coates turned himself in to the authorities on February 16, and has remained in custody since. He has not qualified for bail because he refuses to comply with conditions that would compel him to close his church and no longer preach.
Edmonton's Remand Centre is Canada's largest correctional facility. As part of routine prisoner intake, Coates must first serve 14 days of COVID isolation. It's basically solitary confinement.
In Alberta, a full one-third of non-violent prisoners in the provincial jail system have been released, because of the apparent ongoing threat of the coronavirus. Approximately 500 prisoners have been released from the Remand Centre over the last year. The prison has experienced at least two separate outbreaks of COVID-19, meaning that Pastor Coates likely has a greater chance now of catching COVID than he ever did at his church services.
Protesters say gatherings will continue outside the jail until Pastor Coates is released. GraceLife proceeded with services on Sunday, February 21 to a packed house, with Pastor Jake Spenst at the pulpit.