A Reformed Christian political action group has joined the appeal of three Fraser Valley churches that were blocked from holding services during last year’s COVID restrictions.
Three churches, Riverside Calvary Chapel in Langley, Immanuel Covenant Reformed Church in Abbotsford and the Free Reformed Church of Chilliwack, had continued holding services in early 2021, in defiance of the public health orders issued by the province’s chief medical health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry.
Facing fines, the churches fought the health ruling in court, but lost in March last year.
The case pitted rights guaranteed under the Charter with the need to protect the vulnerable and the integrity of the health care system itself.
“Although the impacts of the… orders on the religious petitioners’ rights are significant, the benefits to the objectives of the orders are even more so. In my view, the orders represent a reasonable and proportionate balance,” B.C. Supreme Court’s Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson wrote in his ruling.
The churches quickly announced they would appeal.
Now the Association for Reformed Political Action Canada (ARPA) has been granted intervenor status in the upcoming appeal hearings.
Two of the three churches are Reformed churches, and lawyers representing the Attorney General of B.C. and Henry had argued that allowing ARPA to take part in the appeal as an intervenor would be “duplicative of” the churches’ arguments.
However, Justice Leonard Marchand of the B.C. Court of Appeal ruled on Feb. 11 that ARPA has its own distinct points to make.
“I am satisfied that certain of ARPA Canada’s proposed arguments are in the ‘Goldilocks’ zone of providing a distinct and helpful perspective on the issues raised by the parties without introducing entirely new issues or hijacking the proceedings to serve their own ends,” Marchand wrote in his ruling.
However, ARPA will be limited in the issues it can argue before the three-judge appeal court, Marchand ruled. The non-profit can only address “institutional pluralism” and some of the intersectional impacts of the Charter of Rights breaches created by the health orders.
The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms has been representing the churches. It announced the appeal in April.
Capacity restrictions imposed during the most recent Omicron wave of COVID-19 were lifted as of Feb. 17 in B.C. Indoor masking and vaccine passport restrictions remain in place for many indoor activities. Churches and other places of worship had to either check vaccine passports, or limit capacity to 50 per cent from mid-December.
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