Screenshot of Pastor James Butler giving a sermon at Free Grace Baptist Church in Chilliwack on Nov. 22, 2020. Butler is one of three Chilliwack pastors facing violation tickets between them for holding services in violation of public health orders, tickets they are fighting in court. (YouTube)

Screenshot of Pastor James Butler giving a sermon at Free Grace Baptist Church in Chilliwack on Nov. 22, 2020. Butler is one of three Chilliwack pastors facing violation tickets between them for holding services in violation of public health orders, tickets they are fighting in court. (YouTube)

Trial dates set for 3 Chilliwack pastors accused of violating public health orders

Fines of $2,300 each were issued for holding church services in defiance of COVID-19 restrictions

Trial dates have been set for three Chilliwack church pastors facing thousands of dollars in fines for allegedly repeatedly violating provincial public health orders.

Pastors John Koopman, James Butler and Timothy Champ – of Chilliwack Free Reformed Church, Free Grace Baptist Church, and Valley Heights Community Church respectively – each face more than a dozen violation tickets for incidents in December 2020 and January 2021, according to online court records.

The churches held services despite orders banning in-person church services as far back as November. It was Dec. 6 and 13 when Chilliwack RCMP members responded to complaints of groups gathering at the three churches.

From the start the three made it clear they would not be paying the fines willingly, and would be fighting in court.

At a court appearance in September, trial dates for the three men were scheduled for Jan. 25, 26 and 27.

The men are represented by Calgary-based Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF), an organization that say it’s role is “defending the constitutional freedoms of Canadians.”

The JCCF has been involved in defending numerous church leaders accused of violating public health orders throughout the pandemic. The organization even admitted to hiring a private investigator to follow a Manitoba judge and other public officials to see if they could catch them violating public health orders.

READ MORE: Group behind church court challenges hired private investigator to follow Manitoba judge

READ MORE: Judge dismisses charter application of pastor on trial for violating health orders

Butler and Koopman were asked by The Progress almost a year ago if they were fighting the violation tickets. JCCF lawyer Marty Moore responded on their behalf.

“Notice of Hearings have been issued for some of the tickets issued,” Moore said via email. “Each of those will be challenged in court, including on the basis that they are unjustified violations of the freedoms of religion, expression, peaceful assembly, and association, and the rights to liberty and equality.”

When asked back in November 2020 about holding in-person church services in clear contravention of public health orders, Butler responded that “The identification of what is and what is not an ‘essential service’ is certainly open for interpretation, but in short, we believe that churches are essential, and that Christians are commanded by God to attend public worship.”

While the three are alleged to have knowingly violated public health orders at the time, the new stricter orders in Abbotsford, Mission, Chilliwack, Agassiz, Harrison Hot Spring and Hope, mean that worship services are now exempt.

READ MORE: New COVID restrictions imposed on eastern Fraser Valley to encourage vaccination


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