A Parkland County church that has been defying COVID-19 restrictions held another busy service Sunday ahead of its jailed pastor’s court date.
The parking lot at GraceLife Church — which has been charged as an entity with breaching capacity limits and social distancing rules — was packed Sunday as congregants once again gathered to worship.
GraceLife Pastor James Coates is scheduled to make a court appearance Monday in Stony Plain on charges under the Public Health Act. His lawyers said last week that they have reached a deal with the Crown which will see one of the charges withdrawn and a second resolved with a fine.
They said they are hopeful Coates will be released Monday ahead of his trial on the remaining charge in May. The Crown has not commented on the alleged deal.
The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, which is representing Coates, said it intends to challenge the constitutionality of Alberta’s COVID restrictions.
Associate Pastor Jacob Spenst said Sunday that he spoke with Coates by phone two days prior.
“We’re praying that tomorrow is the day that he will be released,” Spenst told congregants. “So certainly keep that in your prayers — pray that the judge that he will appear before is going to look favourably on the deal that has been struck, so to speak.”
He reiterated the church’s desire to worship “unhindered” by health restrictions.
The RCMP did not immediately respond to a request for comment Sunday. On Wednesday, the force issued a news release saying they do not have the legal authority to shut down an establishment for violating COVID rules.
“Any public health-related enforcement against non-compliant establishments lies with (Alberta Health Services),” the release said. “The Alberta RCMP is a steadfast partner in this health crisis and continues support AHS in any future enforcement they pursue.”
— with files from Josh Thomas, Spruce Grove Examiner/Stony Plain Reporter