Police warned the Riverside Calvary Church in Langley will face more fines if it continues to hold in-person worship in defiance of provincial orders against large gatherings during the pandemic.
According to a petition filed on Jan. 7 in the Vancouver B.C. Supreme Court registry on behalf of Riverside Calvary and several other parties in B.C., two bylaw officers and six RCMP officers arrived at the church in the 9600 block of 201st Street to issue the first ticket for $2,300 on Sunday, Nov. 29.
“The officers threatened to return that day to issue more tickets if gatherings continued, stating the individuals attending the [church] may be ticketed as well,” the document described.
Officers did return the same day, but no more tickets were issued, the document said.
When a second ticket was issued on Sunday, Jan. 3, the document said two police officers issued it to a church pastor who happened to be parked in the parking lot and not conducting a service.
“The officers warned of more tickets if [the] church continued to meet.”
In the document, Riverside said it has been operating under the COVID-19 restrictions of a previous provincial directive that had allowed worship services for up to 50 people.
Precautions included holding several smaller-sized services with limits on the number of people, the removal of chairs to maintain physical distancing and sanitizer stations, the lawsuit said.
“The sanctuary was cleaned between each service and masks were also provided. A reservation link was put on [the church] website for people to reserve seats and it complied with all public health directives.”
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The document contains claims that have not been proven in court.
While some of the information in the petition obtained by the Langley Advance Times was redacted, it was clear from the ticket numbers cited which section described the Langley church.
In the document, the church is described as an “Evangelical church which involves expositional Bible teaching verse by verse.”
“They believe that gathering together for worship is essential to their spiritual health and the benefits include mutual encouragement, caring for one another, praying for one another and singing together.”
Lawyer Marty Moore of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, the group that filed the legal challenge, said Riverside Calvary Chapel “has gone to extraordinary lengths to comply with safety protocols.”
“It is one of a significant number of BC faith communities that sincerely believe they must gather for in person worship and for the spiritual and emotional well-being of their members,” Moore told the Langley Advance Times.
“The (Provincial Health Officers) PHO’s Order prohibiting any religious gathering regardless of the safety protocols implemented is not minimally impairing of individuals’ Charter rights and freedoms and in fact discriminates against faith communities,” Moore added.
“Individuals and faith communities have appropriately sought judicial review of this Order and look forward to the Court’s determination of this important matter.”
The court document asked to have the ban on large gatherings quashed and the fines dismissed, arguing the provincial authorities exceeded their statutory authority.
In addition to Riverside, the lawsuit includes affidavits from one person who participated in public protests against COVID-19 restrictions, and a number of other church leaders.
At least 19 churches in the Fraser Valley have been holding in-person services in defiance of a provincial ban ordered to slow the spread of COVID-19.