Alberta government seeks to censor pastor accused of violation of COVID-19 rules, defendants argue

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Supporters of Pastor James Coats rally outside a court in Edmonton on 4 March 2021.

Jason FRANSON / Canadian Press

Counsel for a clergyman from Alberta accused of violating COVID-19 rules said the province’s health agency has offered a way to punish the church leader.

James Kitchen told James Coats’ trial in Edmonton that his client was charged the same day he preached criticizing Alberta’s leadership on the epidemic.

Coats was ticketed for health inspectors under the Public Health Act on December 20, 2020, stating that he held services at Gresliffe Church ignoring capacity limits, physical disturbances and masking.

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Kitchen says it is not a coincidence that the day Premier Jason Kenny was handling the COVID-19 crisis, he was given a sermon on the same day that Coats was ticketed for.

Advocates say that health inspectors had come to many services before and noted violations of COVID-19 rules in their reports.

He says inspectors also came on the morning of 20 December, before Coats gave his sermon, but it was not until he was preached that RCMP officers showed up to give him the ticket.

Kitchen says public-health orders to stop the spread of COVID-19 have violated the clergy’s charter rights to freedom of expression, assembly, and worship.

Kitchen is a lawyer with the Justice Center for Constitutional Freedom, an advocacy group that represents Coats.

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