Rally planned for Saturday to support jailed minister

A rally is being planned for Saturday at 11 a.m. at the Prince George cenotaph to support the minister of an Alberta church who refused to turn away parishioners and was sent to jail for defying public health restrictions on public gatherings.

Timothy Schouten is organizing the protest near city hall and is inviting friends to show their support for James Coates, the pastor of GraceLife Church of Edmonton, who was arrested on Feb. 16 and charged with violating COVID restrictions. Police say Coates violated restrictions on crowd size, masking and physical distancing during his services at the church.

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Timothy Schouten, an email to The Citizen, said Coates has the backing of the elders of his church and they “do not believe that the government has the authority from God, or Canadian law, to regulate the worship of the church.

“The arrest and continued detention of Pastor James are a trial for him and his family and church,” wrote Schouten. “We want to bring them before God in public prayer.

“Not many churches have taken the approach as GraceLife Church  to the current restrictions. We are concerned about what his imprisonment means for the freedom of the church, and of all Canadians. We believe that the current restrictions on worship are a clear and significant breach of our Charter rights. The fact a Canadian pastor is in jail for preaching in what used to be a normal worship service concerns us greatly.”

Coates is prepared to remain in jail for the next two months pending the start of a three-day trial on May 3. He was told he could be released immediately if he agreed to refrain from leading church services, as he has been doing, but refused to follow bail conditions.

GraceLife Church was fined $1,600 in December and a closure order in January issued by health authorities was ignored. Coates was charged twice in February with violating the Public Health Act and refusing to follow the terms of his release.

“Our gathering of support is intended to be respectful, tasteful and somber,” said Schouten. “We ask that attendees refrain from chanting, shouting and disorder. If attendees desire to bring signs, they should ensure that the signs are tasteful and relevant to the purpose of the gathering. After the gathering is finished, attendees are asked to disperse immediately.”

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