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Crown drops COVID charges against Fraser Valley pastors accused of violating public health orders

Fines totalling $55,200 dropped against three Chilliwack pastors
Free Reformed Church is seen as people attend Sunday Service, in Chilliwack, B.C., on Sunday, February 21, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Crown counsel has dropped 24 COVID-19 violation charges totalling $55,200 in fines against three Chilliwack pastors who continued in-person worship services in repeated violation of 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 faced 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.

But on May 4 and 6, Crown directed a stay of proceedings of seven tickets Koopman faced, 11 for Butler, and six for Champ. A total of 24 tickets were withdrawn. There are still more than 20 tickets issued against pastors and churches in the Fraser Valley that remain outstanding, according to the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF) who are defending the pastors in court.

The JCCF has been involved in defending numerous church leaders accused of violating public health orders throughout the pandemic. The president of the organization, John Carpay, 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.

JCCF lawyers and board of directors said they had no prior knowledge of Carpay’s actions, and he later apologized for it.

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“All levels of government, including politicians, health officials and law enforcement, have the duty to respect the constitutional rights and freedoms of Canadians,” JCCF lawyer Marty Moore said in a press release. “In response to Covid, there has been a serious failure of government officials and authorities in BC to respect the Charter freedoms of B.C. residents.”

The JCCF insisted that the province “discriminated against houses of worship” by way of the public health orders.

“Twenty-five people could attend an indoor workout class, 50 people could go to a support group, but not even five people were permitted to gather for religious worship in a church, masjid, gurdwara, temple or synagogue under the provincial health orders,” Moore said. “The Justice Centre is committed to defending the constitutional freedoms of all Canadians, including their freedom to worship and right to equal treatment under the law.”

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