The group defending an Edmonton-area pastor in court after he was charged for breaking public health orders says he’s being released ahead of his May trial.
The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms said Wednesday that Crown prosecutors have agreed to withdraw all but one of the Public Health Act offences against Pastor James Coates.
In a news release, the group said it expects Coates will be released from jail “in the coming days, without any conditions, pending his May 3-5 trial.”
Global News has reached out to the provincial courts and Alberta Justice for comment. This article will updated when a response is received.
Coates was charged in February for violating Alberta’s Public Health Act and breaking a promise to abide by rules of his bail release, which is a Criminal Code offence. The church has been holding services that officials say break public-health regulations on attendance, masking and distancing.
On Feb. 16, Coates’ bail condition was that he’d be released if he agreed to hold church services that followed all the public health restrictions. Coates didn’t agree.
His lawyer, James Kitchen, told a judge that Coates can’t follow a bail condition that forbids him from holding services, because that would violate his conscience by disobeying God.
A Crown lawyer argued that the pastor’s release is a danger to the public.
Queen’s Bench Justice Peter Michalyshyn said in his March 5 decision that public health laws remain valid and the pastor will stay in jail for eight more weeks until his trial begins in May.
“The law that Mr. Coates clearly intends not to be bound by remains valid and enforceable against him. Mr. Coates’s strongly held religious beliefs and convictions do not overcome those valid and enforceable laws,” Michalyshyn said.
The Justice Centre said Coates has been at the Remand Centre since Feb. 16 but it expects he could be released “as early as Friday, March 19.”
“The Justice Centre will defend Pastor Coates on one remaining charge of violating an Order of the Chief Medical Officer of Health by challenging the lawfulness of the public health order that he is charged with violating,” the news release stated.
The Justice Centre says Crown prosecutors have agreed Coates can be released without conditions.
The group also says the Crown will withdraw all but one of the Public Health Act charges and the criminal charge in connection with the bail condition “and instead have charged Pastor Coates $100 for breaching the condition, which Pastor Coates has agreed to pay.”
“The single charge remaining has not been withdrawn, as the Justice Centre and Pastor Coates want the matter heard at trial, to determine the constitutionality of the public health order that churches only hold worship services at 15 per cent capacity, and to compel the government to produce scientific evidence that might support these violations of Charter freedoms.”
The trial is scheduled to take place beginning on May 3.
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