It’s the Christmas season and churches are in the news this week … not for uplifting messages of hope and good cheer, but for flaunting provincial laws.
The pastors of several churches in the Fraser Valley and one in 100 Mile House have been fined, some repeatedly, for not adhering to the limits imposed on social gatherings due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
They believe their wish to congregate is more important that your wish not to get sick and die. Yes, it’s a bit selfish, I agree.
However, the argument is that banning church services is an infringement of church-goer’s rights are the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Even the B.C. Civil Liberties Association has jumped in and said they likely have a case.
But do they? Really?
I’m not a lawyer but I can played one on the internet – Bill Phillips Q.C. (Quack’s Club) of the firm Dewey, Skruem, and Howe (check out our latest big win for the Canadian Revenue Agency on CERB payments).
So what does the Charter say?
Well, at first blush one might say there is a case for the COVID-churchies. The very preamble of the Charter states: “Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law.” Jeez, it’s in the first line. The problem, of course, is that, as in this case, the supremacy of God and the rule of law often don’t align.
But, it’s there again in Section 2 – Fundamental Freedoms where it says the first fundamental freedom every Canadian has is the “freedom of conscience and religion.”
Case closed? Not so fast. It doesn’t say that freedom of religion means being able to go to church on Sunday. Can we not be religious without going to church? For some, apparently not. Frankly, I’m tired of those who use the Charter’s freedom of religion clause as a get out of jail free card. But that’s just me.
But there is more fodder for the God-fearin’, COVID-not-fearin’ folks.
The Charter also guarantees “freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association.” That would seem to cover the whole going to church thing.
But the Charter, like the Bible, can be interpreted different ways, depending on what part you read.
Section 1, which comes before the above-mentioned fundamental freedoms part, says the rights and freedoms are guaranteed “subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.”
I would argue that the restrictions our health officials have been putting on us are “reasonable limits prescribed by law” and the information they have been providing over the past nine or 10 months “demonstrably justify” those limits as we are still in “a free and democratic society.”
I guess we can debate was “reasonable” limits are until the cows come home or until constitutional lawyers get rich … er, richer.
But wait, there’s more. Section 7 of the Charter reads: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.”
While this refers to being arrested, it’s not too much of a stretch to suggest that possibly spreading a highly infectious and deadly virus deprives everyone else the right not to be deprived of their “security of the person.”
Personally, I find it very disappointing that some churches have gone down this road. I would expect that, in times of crisis churches would be the ones being responsible, being caring, being leaders looking out for the flocks other than their own.
After all, no one has said people cannot practice the religion of their choice. They are simply being asked to do it in a different way right now … just like everyone else is doing for everything else.