A church in Alberta, Canada, has been shut down and fenced off by the Alberta government for running afoul of coronavirus rules.
CTV News reported that the police and security staff were around as chain-link metal fencing was installed around the church building and its parking lot Wednesday.
The church, located west of Edmonton, dismissed public health warnings for months, and its pastor, James Coates, spent a month behind bars.
Coates was charged in February for violating coronavirus public health orders. He was then jailed for refusing to comply with a bail order that stated he could only hold services that followed public health orders.
In early March, Coates’s attorneys argued that it would go against Coates’s religious conscience not to lead worshippers. He returned to preaching on March 28 after paying a $1,500 fine and pleading guilty to a count of breaching bail.
Churches in the region are allowed to open at 15 percent capacity with social distancing and masks, but officials say GraceLife has had hundreds of congregants attend its church services.
Alberta Health Services said they attempted to work with the church for months before shutting it down. Some of the steps they took before enforcing a closure include the following:
- Issuing an order on December 17 requiring the church to comply with restrictions from Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health.
- A Court of Queen’s Bench order obtained January 21 requiring the church to comply with the previous order.
- A closure order issued on January 29 requiring the church to shut down until they complied with the restrictions.
- Issuing a letter to Pastor James Coates on March 27, informing him of the continued spread of the coronavirus.
- Last week, Alberta Health Services invited Coates to a virtual meeting to discuss coronavirus risks, but the church did not provide any dates to meet.
GraceLife has become the target of criticism against Premier Jason Kenney’s government as the church remained open, despite Kenney’s warning that those who violate the rules will face the consequences.