Three British Columbia churches challenged the government's total ban on in-person worship services imposed from November 2020 to May 2021 as part of a slate of provincially imposed coronavirus restrictions.
The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms represents the Fraser Valley area churches. Lawyer Marty Moore said in a press release Thursday:
"We are disappointed that the Supreme Court of Canada has declined our application for leave to appeal in this matter. Errors such as imposing on citizens the burden to show that government violations of their rights were unreasonable, contrary to the language of section 1 of the Charter, will need to be corrected in latter cases."
“Our clients, who still face prosecution for holding safe in-person worship services in 2020 and 2021, will continue to assert their other legal and constitutional rights in defense against those charges, including that the Provincial Health Officer abused her discretion in selectively permitting and prohibiting in-person gatherings based on factors other than health and safety. The complete prohibition on in-person worship services, indoors or outdoors, in the Public Health Orders is a prime example of such conduct."
The churches defied the restrictions citing religious freedom. They held in-person services "while adhering to all Covid regulations in BC at that time, which included face masks, social distancing and capacity limits."
On January 8, 2021, the three churches, and a separate protest organizer, filed a constitutional challenge against restrictions on public protest and church services. In response, the province of BC unsuccessfully sought an order to allow authorities to detain those believed to be attending a religious service.
On March 18, 2021, Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson of the Supreme Court of British Columbia dismissed the churches' challenge to worship restrictions. However, during the hearing, the province of BC admitted that the ban on outdoor protests imposed from November 19, 2020, to February 10, 2021, was unjustified, and the Court declared it to be of no force or effect.
The appeal of that decision was declined to be heard by the Supreme Court.
The JCCF notes that churches were closed entirely to worshippers as potential super-spreader events in BC, yet gyms, restaurants and big box stores remained open.