Edmonton

Police 'furthering investigation' after GraceLife Church defies health restrictions again

A church in Parkland County held another service Sunday, defying Alberta health restrictions and a closure order imposed last month.

Officers on scene determined that the church did not comply with public health restrictions

Parkland RCMP are furthering their investigation into GraceLife Church after it failed to comply with COVID-19 restrictions again on Sunday. (Nathan Gross/CBC)

A church in Parkland County held another service Sunday, defying Alberta health restrictions and a closure order imposed last month.

Parkland RCMP and Alberta Health Services (AHS) attended the GraceLife Church morning service to see if it complied with public health restrictions for churches of 15 per cent capacity with distancing and masking.

Officers on scene determined that the church did not comply with the restrictions, police said in a news release. 

"Subsequently the RCMP are furthering their investigation into the actions of GraceLife Church and the church pastor, James Coates," police said.

"To be very clear, the RCMP's objective is not to interrupt church services, prohibit services, nor deny peoples' right to practice their religion," stated Insp. Mike Lokken, detachment commander of Parkland RCMP. "Merely to ensure that public health restrictions are adhered to while doing so," he said.

Last week, the pastor of the church was charged by the RCMP after his church repeatedly flouted pandemic restrictions. Coates was arrested and released for breaches to the Public Health Act.

Coates was issued a $1,200 ticket in December for contravening orders of Alberta's chief medical officer of health, after inspectors observed that the church was far exceeding capacity limits, that staff, volunteers and congregants were going unmasked and were not social distancing.

On Jan. 29, AHS ordered the church to close but it continued to hold services with up to 300 people.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, 1,780 Albertans have died due to COVID-19. 

In a statement posted on the church's website, GraceLife said it initially followed the public health guidelines, but has come to view the measures as a way to "fundamentally alter society and strip us all of our civil liberties."

"We do not see our actions as perpetuating the longevity of COVID-19 or any other virus that will inevitably come along," the statement reads. "If anything, we see our actions as contributing to its end — the end of destructive lockdowns and the end of the attempt to institutionalize the debilitating fear of viral infections."

On Sunday, police said a detailed media release regarding the outcome of the investigation is anticipated for release mid-week. 

Coates is expected in court on March 31.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Thandiwe Konguavi

Reporter/editor

Thandiwe Konguavi is an award-winning journalist, born in Zimbabwe. She is a reporter/editor at CBC Edmonton. Reach her at thandiwe.konguavi@cbc.ca or follow her on Twitter:

With files from Paige Parsons

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