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‘Shepherd must defend his flock:’ Judge fines, releases Alberta jailed pastor




DISTRICT ST STONY, Alta. A pastor Alberta who was held in jail for violating parole to comply with COVID-19 health orders would be released unconditionally Monday.

DISTRICT ST STONY, Alta. A pastor Alberta who was held in jail for violating parole to comply with COVID-19 health orders would be released unconditionally Monday.

James Coates of GraceLife Church pleaded guilty to a felony charge and fined $ 1,500.

However, one judge said the 35 days Coates had spent in custody would count as credit for the entire fine.

Coates was indicted in February after officials said the church west of Edmonton had violated public health measures to help curb the spread of COVID-19.

Provincial Court Judge Jeffrey Champion agreed to drop all charges, except one, against Coates. The pastor will go to trial in May on a charge under the Albertas Public Health Act of maintaining services that allegedly breaks a limit on the size of rallies.

Crown prosecutor Leighton Gray and a defense attorney at the Justice Center for Constitutional Freedom, a group representing the pastor, had suggested Coates be fined $ 100 for violating the court venture.

The judge disagreed.

“I question whether $ 100 is a proper denunciation of Mr Coates’s conduct, as well as a proper precaution for others who may think ‘I may violate the chief health officer’ s instructions and get 100 $ fine, “said Champion.

“It’s an issue when someone makes a decision that could affect the health and lives of thousands of people.”

The judge said that when the pastor was arrested, the spread of COVID-19 was a serious concern and church services could have been “super-spreaders” of the Roman coronavirus.

“The members of that (church) were going out into the community in general,” said the judge, who noted that Coates referred to himself as a shepherd.

“The shepherd must defend his flock,” said the Champion.

“Mr. Coates. You should not make that decision for everyone else, and your decisions could have affected the health and safety of so many of your fellow citizens.”

The pastor, wearing an orange and black coveralls and taking a mask from his face, told the judge in a video conference that he was not trying to make a statement by not respecting his parole conditions.

“I realized that this is how society will perceive what is happening here. (But) I’m just here in obedience to Jesus Christ, and it is my obedience to Christ that has put me against the law,” Coates said .

“The court is aware that I am challenging the legitimacy of that law, but please do not make any mistake … I am not trying to make a point. I am not a political revolutionary.”

GraceLife has continued to maintain services over the weekend while Coates has been in jail, including one this past weekend. Alberta Health Services said officials did not monitor the last meeting.

Two weeks ago, the church itself was accused of violating health measures.

Provincial regulations limit attendance at church to 15 percent and call on congregants to physically distance themselves and wear masks.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on March 22, 2021.


This story was produced with the financial support of Facebook and the Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Fakiha Baig, Canadian Press

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