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Fraser Valley pastor's 10-day hearing into COVID-related worship bans begins

A 10-day hearing to consider application by Chilliwack pastor over in-person worship bans has begun
A abuse-of-process hearing is underway at Chilliwack Law Courts. (Progress file)

A 10-day hearing in B.C. Supreme Court to consider the abuse of process application by a Chilliwack church pastor over COVID-related worship bans started Thursday (June 13).

The abuse-of-process hearing, presided over by B.C. Supreme Court Justice Andrea Ormiston, will see a voir dire hearing first, until June 17, to consider witnesses.

Rev. John Koopman, pastor of the Free Reformed Church, is the applicant, said his lawyer Paul Jaffe, from the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms.
Jaffe said he will argue that provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry granted preferential treatment to some faith groups in granting exemptions and accommodations to in-person worship bans during the pandemic.

"The churches argue that their prosecution for violating public health orders is an abuse of process and ought to be stayed," according to the release from Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms on June 13. "Lawyers for the churches will present evidence that Dr. Henry acted dishonestly and in bad faith while banning in-person worship services in 2020 and 2021, granting immediate exemptions to Jewish synagogues while ignoring exemption requests from Muslims and Christians."
Koopman, along with two other Fraser Valley pastors, were ticketed for violating the PHO's ban on hosting in-person church services.
Koopman was not in court on June 13 but is expected to be available to testify as of June 26, Jaffe said.

The pastors, including Koopman, had applied for "accommodation" for their congregations to be allowed to gather despite the in-person worship ban made by Dr. Henry in the gathering and events orders, and was granted permission to worship outdoors. At the time, in-person worship services were prohibited but gathering in bars, restaurants, gyms, and salons were not.

Koopman's application to the court in 2023, said discriminatory actions of the Provincial Health Officer had made the continuation of his prosecution "offensive to societal notions of fair play and decency" and had brought the administration of justice into disrepute.
The Crown argued in May 2023 that the abuse-of-process application should not proceed to an evidentiary hearing, and that Dr. Henry and Deputy Provincial Health Officer Dr. Brian Emerson should not be subpoenaed as witnesses in the case.

Crown had argued that the application should be dismissed because the matter was already settled by the B.C. Supreme Court in the case of R v. Beaudoin in 2021.

READ MORE: Chilliwack church pastor’s Charter challenge over COVID ticket summarily dismissed


Jennifer Feinberg

About the Author: Jennifer Feinberg

I have been a Chilliwack Progress reporter for 20+ years, covering city hall, Indigenous, business, and climate change stories.
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