New Brunswick

N.B. Court of Appeal orders stay in case against church accused of flouting COVID rules

Even as the province prepares to lift COVID-19 mandates, the court case against a Saint John church accused of flouting those rules continues to slowly make its way through a series of legal twists and turns. 

No dates set for appeal filed by His Tabernacle Family Church

The contempt of court case against Philip Hutchings and His Tabernacle Family Church has been stayed until two appeals filed by the church can be heard. (His Tabernacle Family Church/Facebook)

Even as the province prepares to lift COVID-19 restrictions, the court case against a Saint John church accused of flouting those rules continues to slowly make its way through a series of legal twists and turns. 

The original contempt of court allegation against His Tabernacle Family Church has now been put on hold by the Court of Appeal of New Brunswick while it deals with two appeals by the church. 

The first is a ruling on what constitutes an enclosed indoor space, and the second is the judge's refusal to recuse himself from the case. 

As a result of granting leave to appeal those two issues, the Court of Appeal also issued a stay of proceedings in the original contempt case against His Tabernacle Family Church and four of its leaders, according to a decision released by the court on Thursday. 

So far, no dates have been set for the appeals.

The case has been bogged down in recent months, with both sides filing additional motions with the court, making it less likely with each legal layer added that the original contempt motion will be dealt with any time soon. 

Officials with His Tabernacle Family Church who are accused by the province of contempt of court are, from left, Jamie Hutchings, Dana Butler, Philip Hutchings, and Cody Butler. (Graham Thompson/CBC)

The province filed the original contempt motion last fall after the church and its officials promised the court to abide by New Brunswick's COVID-19 protocols — that came after the church's pastor, Philip Hutchings, had already spent a week in jail on remand in the same case. 

The province alleges that the church continued to have services that violated the rules for faith-based gatherings after they signed the agreement with the court. 

Named in the case besides the church and Hutchings, are Hutchings's wife, Jamie, and Cody and Dana Butler. 

Last month, Jonathan Martin, the lawyer for the church and its officials, sought leave to appeal the two decisions by Justice Darrell Stephenson. In the decision released Thursday, the Court of Appeal granted both.

Justice Charles LeBlond also issued the stay of proceedings for the original contempt charge against the church and the four named leaders of the church.

LeBlond said the stay "does not affect the obligation" of the church to obey all COVID-19 rules. He also ordered the province to pay $1,500 to the intended appellants for costs.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mia Urquhart is a journalist with CBC New Brunswick, based in Saint John. She can be reached at mia.urquhart@cbc.ca.

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