Edmonton church, pastor convicted of obstructing public health inspector
Church in the Vine and pastor Tracy Fortin could face $600,000 in fines
An Edmonton church and one of its pastors have been found guilty of violating Alberta's Public Health Act six times.
Last Wednesday, provincial court Judge Shelagh Creagh found Church in the Vine, located at 12345 149 Street in northwest Edmonton, and pastor Tracy Fortin guilty of six counts of obstructing a public health inspector.
The lawyer representing the church and Fortin said he expected the convictions.
"It wasn't a big surprise," James Kitchen told CBC News.
"Basically, the public health inspector showed up at church during worship service Sunday morning and said she wanted to come in. The pastor said no, and of course when you do that, you trigger section 71 of the Public Health Act, which says public health inspectors can pretty much come in whenever and however they want."
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According to court documents, the church and Fortin obstructed a health officer on March 7, 2021, March 14, 2021, and on June 6, 2021.
On her Facebook page, Fortin explained that she stopped the inspector from entering because past visits had been disruptive and disturbing.
Fortin did not respond to a CBC request for an interview.
A photo of a smiling Fortin with her husband and lawyer was taken just outside the Edmonton courtroom after they were convicted and was also posted on Facebook.
At last Sunday's church service she explained that moment to the congregation.
"When we first stepped out of the courtroom, I think we might have surprised them or caught them a little off guard," Tracy Fortin said in the video of the service that has been posted online . "We went, 'Yay. We're guilty.'"
She told the congregation that the guilty verdicts made her feel more 'emboldened'.
"That's just man's verdict," Fortin said. "Whenever man's verdict does not line up with the word of God, it's simple. It's a lie. And we don't receive it."
A sentencing hearing will be held on May 25 and the church is fundraising in advance to cover expected fines.
"It could be a little fine, it could be no fine, it could be a big fine," pastor Rodney Fortin said during the church service last Sunday. "But you know what? The fine doesn't define us."
A $1 million fundraising target has been set, but so far just over $1,500 has been raised through GiveSendGo.
The Public Health Act exponentially increased penalties in 2021 during the COVID-19 pandemic so that first-time violators face a maximum fine of $100,000 and $500,000 for subsequent offences.
That could mean a maximum assessed value of $600,000.
"I would be quite surprised if we got anywhere near that kind of number," Kitchen said.
"But that's the statutory maximum. The judge doesn't have to do anything special to simply say I'm exercising my discretion to award the statutory maximum in fines."
Kitchen said he plans to appeal the conviction. His clients say they'd like to take the legal battle all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada.
- An earlier version of this story said Church in the Vine and pastor Tracy Fortin could face up to $2.2M in fines. A justice department spokesperson has clarified the maximum would be $600,000 since this is considered to be a first offence under the Public Health Act.May 11, 2022 10:42 AM MT