Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson (Office of the Chief Justice)

Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson (Office of the Chief Justice)

Judge questions whether B.C.’s top doctor appreciated right to religious freedom

Lawyer for province says Dr. Henry has outlined the reasons for her orders publicly

A lawyer for British Columbia’s attorney general says the provincial health officer understands the importance of balancing any COVID-19 restrictions on in-person gatherings against the charter right to freedom of religion.

In a hearing over a petition challenging Dr. Bonnie Henry’s health orders, Gareth Morley told the B.C. Supreme Court that Henry has outlined the reasons for her orders both verbally in public briefings and in writing.

He says Henry’s statements described how rapidly rising COVID-19 cases in B.C. last fall threatened exponential growth that could have overwhelmed the health-care system, and further restrictions were necessary to prevent transmission while keeping schools and essential workplaces open.

Paul Jaffe, a lawyer for the group of petitioners that includes three Fraser Valley churches, told the court this week the restrictions substantially and unjustifiably interfere with his clients’ charter right to freedom of religion.

Morley told Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson that Henry believed accelerating cases constituted a health hazard, allowing her to issue orders that she acknowledged may affect charter rights in a reasonable and proportional way.

However, Hinkson questioned whether Henry fully appreciated the right to religious freedom based on Morley’s description of her statements related to the orders last November and December.

“She talks about needs of persons to attend in-person religious services, but that really wouldn’t capture the charter right that’s asserted by the petitioners … would it?” he asked.

The orders have since been amended and now include specific reference to the charter and freedom of religion, Morley said, adding Henry has always recognized the importance of religious practice and in-person worship.

Morley told the court Henry consulted with faith leaders before issuing the orders last year and invited churches to submit requests for case-specific exemptions in proposals outlining how they could conduct services in ways that minimize the risk of COVID-19 to her satisfaction.

Jaffe said during his argument this week that his clients — which include the Riverside Calvary Chapel in Langley, Immanuel Covenant Reformed Church in Abbotsford and the Free Reformed Church of Chilliwack — have been careful to adopt safety protocols similar to those approved by Henry in places that remain open.

He said during a separate hearing last month that his clients applied for an exemption in December and did not receive a response.

More legal challenges to B.C.’s public health rules have been filed by representatives of 10 other churches that are part of the Canadian Reformed Churches, and by the Roman Catholic archbishop of Vancouver.

READ MORE: B.C. is ‘stereotyping’ churches as riskier for COVID than other spaces, lawyer argues

The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Oliver Fire Department. (Submitted photo)
More human caused fires in Oliver

Firefighters have been kept busy putting out several potentional wildfires

Old English design elements can be seen in the sign of the Summerland Farm and Garden Centre in 1993. The guidelines are no longer in place, but some downtown businesses still show aspects of the days when Summerland had a theme in place. This photo was taken by Summerland photographer Dan Dorotich. (Photo courtesy of the Summerland Museum)
Summerland’s Old English theme has been abandoned

From the 1980s until the early 2000s, Summerland had design guidelines in its downtown

Penticton bylaw officers tore down a “pretty significantly sized” homeless camp underneath the bridge near Riverside Drive Friday, April 16 morning. (Brennan Phillips - Western News)
Penticton bylaw tears down ‘significantly sized’ homeless camp under bridge

Many residents had made complaints about the camp before it was torn down

Through their Simple Generosity campaign, Valley First has pledged to donate $1 million of community support to British Columbia communities in 2021. (Contributed)
Valley First rewarding Penticton families with innovative way to thrive together

Participants with ‘inspiring ideas’ will receive a surprise for their family, valued at up to $2,500

Elvira D’Angelo, 92, waits to receive her COVID-19 vaccination shot at a clinic in Montreal, Sunday, March 7, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
110 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

Provincial health officers announced 1,005 new cases throughout B.C.

Flow Academy is located at 1511 Sutherland Avenue in Kelowna. (Michael Rodriguez - Capital News)
Black Press Media Weekly Roundup: Top headlines this week

Here’s a quick roundup of the stories that made headlines across the Okanagan, from April 11 to 16

An Extinction Rebellion Vancouver Island (XRVI) climate change event in 2019 saw a large crowd occupy the Johnson Street bridge. Black Press File Photo
‘In grief for our dying world’: B.C. climate activists embark on 4-day protest

The four-day trek on foot and by ferry will see them end at the legislature

A vial of some of the first 500,000 of the two million AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses that Canada secured. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Carlos Osorio
Canada’s 2nd blood clot confirmed in Alberta after AstraZeneca vaccine

Thw male patient, who is in his 60s, is said to be recovering

Valen a student of Coldstream Elementary writes advice for adults amid a pandemic.
‘We can get rid of COVID together’: B.C. kids share heartwarming advice

Elementary students share their wisdom to adults in unprecedented times

Mervin Mascarenhas giving one of his pens to Honorary JP-MP. Premier David Burt of Bermuda. (Image: Mervin Mascarenhas)
Kelowna man who made $90K ‘Space Pen’ recognized by dignitaries, sheikhs

Mervin Mascarenhas is the first Canadian to grace the cover of Millennium Millionaire Magazine

The funeral of Britain’s Prince Philip in Windsor, England, on Saturday, April 17, 2021. Philip died April 9 at the age of 99. (Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP)
PHOTOS: Prince Philip laid to rest Saturday as sombre queen sits alone

The entire royal procession and funeral took place out of public view within the grounds of Windsor Castle

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan describe vaccine rollout at the legislature, March 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C. health minister says delay in Moderna vaccine ‘disappointing’

‘The sooner we get vaccines in people’s arms the better, and inconsistency in delivery is a consistent problem. This is simply a reality and not an issue of blame,’ Adrian Dix said Friday

(Police handout/Kamloops RCMP)
B.C. man dies in custody awaiting trial for Valentine’s Day robbery, kidnapping spree

Robert James Rennie, who was on the Kamloops RCMP’s most wanted list, passed away at the North Fraser Pretrial Centre in Coquitlam

Photos of Vancouver Canucks players are pictured outside the closed box office of Rogers Arena in downtown Vancouver Thursday, April 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Canucks to return to play Sunday versus Leafs after COVID-19 outbreak

The team has had 11 games postponed since an outbreak late last month

Most Read