B.C. drops 24 tickets against pastors issued for violating COVID-19 orders
Fines for the 3 pastors would have totalled $55,200, according to their legal representative
British Columbia's Crown Prosecution Service has dropped two dozen COVID-19 violation tickets against three Chilliwack, B.C., pastors who continued in-person worship services in violation of provincial public health orders.
The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, which represents the pastors, says the fines that have been dropped would have totalled $55,200. Each of the tickets carried a fine of $2,300.
The centre said in a news release that police began ticketing churches for ignoring health orders to hold services starting December 2020, and the three pastors amassed 66 tickets between them.
"They have no way to pay on a pastor's salary. It's a massive financial stress," said Marty Moore, a lawyer with the centre.
The Crown dropped seven tickets against Pastor John Koopman of the Chilliwack Free Reformed Church, 11 tickets against Pastor James Butler of the Free Grace Baptist Church and six tickets against Pastor Timothy Champ with the Valley Heights Community Church.
Dan McLaughlin with the B.C. Prosecution Service (BCPS) said charges are dropped if there is not a substantial likelihood of conviction and/or prosecution is not in the public interest.
The prosecution service said in a statement that, following a review, Crown lawyers found the "assessment standard was no longer met" for 24 of the violations, but noted similar cases remain before the court. The BCPS declined to comment further because of the remaining cases.
The centre says there are still more than 20 outstanding tickets against pastors and churches in the Fraser Valley, and it plans to defend them "vigorously.''
Moore said his main argument against the tickets is there was no justification for banning in-person worship services if, at the same time, the province was allowing people to attend fitness classes and dine out.
"It is really a discriminatory act against people of faith," he said.
Despite holding in-person services during the height of the pandemic, Moore said there was no transmission of COVID-19 at any of the services held at these three churches.
CBC News has also contacted the Ministry of Health for comment.
With files from Bridgette Watson