Alberta Politics
Pastor James Coates preaching to his congregation recently (Photo: Screenshot of GraceLife Church video).

Despite giving UCP a hard time, Critical Infrastructure Defence Act no threat to defiant pastor and his COVID-sceptical flock

Posted on February 20, 2021, 1:39 am
10 mins

Small groups of supporters of James Coates, the temporarily jailed pastor of an Edmonton-area church who has been defiantly refusing to obey Alberta’s COVID-19 restrictions, protested in front of the Edmonton Remand Centre Thursday and yesterday. 

They rallied outside that monumental piece of critical Alberta infrastructure demanding the GraceLife Church’s pastor be freed. 

GraceLife Church in Parkland County, southwest of Edmonton (Photo: Delnor Construction Managers).

Pastor Coates can walk out of jail tomorrow if he wishes, of course. All he has to do is agree to his bail conditions. Bail ought to be no problem as he obviously doesn’t intend to flee and presumably has plenty of parishioners willing to put up some cash in time for tomorrow’s Sunday service. 

After all, at Pastor Coates’s urging, lots of his congregants were prepared during successive Sunday services to defy public health restrictions on large public gatherings temporarily imposed to help curb the spread of COVID-19. 

“Viruses are inevitable in a fallen world,” he preached at a recent service, “and it isn’t the government’s responsibility to protect us from a virus.”

One naturally wonders if the United Conservative Party Government of Jason Kenney – which the pastor’s supporters are now vigorously attacking – will use the powers vested in it under the Critical Infrastructure Defence Act to hammer them for occupying the roadside in front of Canada’s largest jail? 

Readers will recall that the act, passed by the Legislature last June, allows the courts to levy fines on individuals of $25,000 a day and put them in jail for up to six months, and includes penalties on corporations of up to $200,000 for blocking, damaging or entering “critical infrastructure,” which can include roads, sidewalks or pretty well anywhere else the government decides. 

The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees – which by coincidence represents the correctional officers responsible at the moment for Pastor Coates’s custody – has challenged the constitutionality of the act in the courts. In the fullness of time, I predict, we will learn that AUPE is right. 

In the meantime, though, it seems unlikely the Kenney Government would employ the act against Pastor Coates or his church, since this law was obviously intended to suppress the free speech and association rights of trade unionists, environmentalists, Indigenous protesters and others seen by the UCP as Enemies of Alberta. 

The Edmonton Remand Centre on the city’s north side, Pastor Coates’s current temporary abode (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Enemies of Alberta is not a category into which the premier is likely to slot Pastor Coates, even though he is discomfiting Mr. Kenney’s government at the moment, because in the long run his goals and those of the UCP appear to be much the same. 

Meanwhile, given his performance up to now, it’s hard to believe the pastor isn’t delighted to find himself behind bars. 

Remember, he defied orders of the chief medical officer of health on successive Sundays to limit the capacity of his church to 15 per cent of normal, a restriction on freedom of association that unlike many of those of the Critical Infrastructure Defence Act is arguably justifiable under Section 1 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. 

Regardless of what you have read on social media, there were never any restrictions on what he could preach or his freedom of religion.

When the Mounties and Alberta Health Services public health inspectors tried desperately to persuade Pastor Coates to comply with the rules, he ignored them. 

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney (Photo: Government of Alberta).

On Sunday, Feb. 7, the church southwest of Edmonton was packed. According to the RCMP, he was arrested and released. A court date was set. 

On Sunday, Feb. 14, the church was packed again. The Mounties were back and observed he was not complying the with previous Sunday’s release order. 

Two days later, Pastor Coates turned himself in to the Parkland Detachment, the Mounties said. He was charged with contravening the Public Health Act and failing to comply with a condition of his undertaking, a Criminal Code offence.

At his bail hearing that day before a justice of the peace, he was permitted to be released on conditions – which he promptly said he wouldn’t obey.

He was kept in jail overnight as a result and the next day brought to Provincial Court in Stony Plain, where he again refused to agree to bail conditions.

The Mounties then took him to the Remand Centre – no doubt sensing they were being played like a church organ.

Conservative politician turned radio host Danielle Smith (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Pastor Coates is supposed to be back in court on Wednesday when, most likely, he will be given another chance to be released on bail. 

Meanwhile, his views are clear. 

He has declared on the church’s website that “the science being used to justify lockdown measures is both suspect and selective.” He accuses the government and media of “misinformation and fearmongering” about the pandemic. 

“What do we believe people should do?” he asked. “We believe … churches should open, businesses should open, families and friends should come together around meals, and people should begin to exercise their civil liberties again. Otherwise we may not get them back. In fact, some say we are on the cusp of reaching the point of no return.” (Emphasis added.)

This is dangerous nonsense, but it is important to remember it is not about freedom of religion. 

Rather, it is the political line of the Christianist right that makes up much of the UCP base in Alberta, which is in turn is inspired by the Q-conspiracy derangement rampant south of the 49th Parallel. 

Unsurprisingly, the right in Canada and the United States is creating a massive brouhaha about Pastor Coates’s decision to go to jail, painting him as a Christian martyr with the likes of Glen Beck, Breitbart News and Danielle Smith using Mr. Kenney’s own language to lambaste the premier.

So it was amusing to hear Mr. Kenney sounding almost as if he were reciting Opposition talking points in response to Ms. Smith’s attacks on her final Corus Radio show. 

But Pastor Coates’s behaviour appears quite un-Christian. The founder of that religion, readers will recall, preached on the mount that “all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.”

For Mr. Coates to abide by pandemic restrictions while continuing to preach his religious beliefs unimpeded would seem like a reasonable interpretation of that teaching. Instead, he insists on endangering others by preaching defiance of restrictions and scepticism about COVID-19. 

Presumably, most of us would prefer we were not infected with the coronavirus, even by people so deluded they believe it is part of a conspiracy, in Pastor Coates’s words, “to fundamentally alter society and strip us all of our civil liberties” and make us, “if it is ever permitted to be over, … utterly reliant on government.”

Verily, verily, I say unto thee, this has nothing to do with religious freedom. 

31 Comments to: Despite giving UCP a hard time, Critical Infrastructure Defence Act no threat to defiant pastor and his COVID-sceptical flock

  1. TENET

    February 20th, 2021

    Perhaps he needs a cold shower? Remand is a no man’s land. It is a wonderful equalizer where men are mere mortals. The Pastor will cave.

    Reply
    • Bob Raynard

      February 20th, 2021

      “The Pastor will cave.”

      Especially if he drops the soap while he is taking that cold shower!

      Reply
  2. tom

    February 20th, 2021

    Dave, I doubt the good pastor has much time for the New Testament, apart from the Epistles of Paul and the Book of Revelation.

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      February 20th, 2021

      I share your doubt, Tom. Still, readers need to be reminded from time to time of what The Founder had to say. DJC

      Reply
  3. Kang

    February 20th, 2021

    As in most evangelical churches I’m sure the flock are vulnerable and frightened. Their defiance is more to be pitied than condemned. But what kind of leaders put their people in unnecessary danger?

    It is a rock-solid fact that for over 100 years many very dangerous diseases have been contained and/or eliminated by the basic public health measures of compulsory testing/identification, contact tracing, and compulsory quarantines. SARS, MERS, and EBOLA are all recent examples of the success of this approach. Covid 19 could have been contained and eliminated by now IF ONLY our feckless politicians had not been played by those with financial and political interests in undermining public health care.

    It is the incompetent pols like Kenney and Trudeau who are transforming Covid 19 from a manageable short-term problem to a chronic and endemic infection costing thousands of lives and billions of dollars. Both leaders deserve long jail time for their negligence for failing to implement basic public health measures to stop the epidemic as happened successfully in several other countries. No wonder their exhortations have no credibility and people like the parson’s flock are frightened and easily misled.

    Reply
    • Anonymous

      February 20th, 2021

      I have now heard from Dr. Theresa Tam, that if we lift restrictions again, there will be a third wave of Covid-19. Even Alberta’s premier mentioned about multiple waves of Covid-19. There are mutated versions of this virus, and what will this lead to?

      Reply
      • Kang

        February 21st, 2021

        Good questions Anonymous: We know from the history of the Spanish Flu that the second and third waves each killed more people than the first wave. The outbreak started in 1918 and there were still substantial numbers of deaths in 1924. The 1918 troop trains moving soldiers across North America to the Pacific coast for the invasion of Russia seeded the virus at every whistle stop as they dropped off ill soldiers for treatment, so public health measures took a long time to have an effect.

        What do the mutated versions mean? The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention answer your question this way: “These variants seem to spread more easily and quickly than other variants, which may lead to more cases of COVID-19.” That means more people will get the virus so more will die.

        The next question is “are the mutants more lethal than the original virus?” The British and South Africans seem to think the answer is “yes.” The Yanks say the numbers are not in yet. So, for now all we can say for certain is that absent better public health measures, more people are going to get sick and at least as many of those sick people will die as a result. This is to say nothing of the “post-covid syndrome” which so many survivors suffer from for months.

        In my view Kenney and Tam are just covering up their mendacity and incompetence, respectively. This was all perfectly predicable and responsible leaders in several countries heeded the advice of their medial staff and brought their countries back from the brink months before any vaccines were available.

        We may get a show trial of a preacher while those with the real power and responsibility for public health go on to collect their public salaries and pensions while congratulating each other.

        Reply
    • TGK

      February 23rd, 2021

      Have you not read “repent and believe the gospel.”
      A packed church with 500 congregants are not afraid. Not when they are singing and praising to their God who is Sovereign over all. If anything, there is an underlying fear for the souls of those who do not acknowledge their sins and repent and believe the gospel message of Jesus Christ.

      Reply
  4. Political Ranger

    February 20th, 2021

    If ever there was a case to be made in favour of prejudice, this is it! These are despicable people.
    These wild and ignorant uncivil individuals should not be allowed to roam free. They and their activities must be severely regulated. They are a danger to civil society.

    Reply
    • Mickey Rat

      February 21st, 2021

      I’m a bit afraid that maybe you’re being sarcastic Ranger, but I agree. These attitudes are completely outside of the definition of society, any society – and if some call it prejudice so be it…

      Reply
  5. Dave in Sask

    February 20th, 2021

    It would be useful for comparison purpose if governments in past years had as vigoursly reported the number of flu deaths. Without having that number who knows how bad the covid situation is by comparison.

    Full disclosure my family is masking up as required but how does it compare to other years flu deaths?

    Reply
    • jerrymacgp

      February 21st, 2021

      Dear Mr In Sask: I don’t want to impugn your motives behind this post, but this false equivalence between COVID-19 & Influenza has been used by many before — including our not-so-illustrious Premier — to minimize the seriousness of this pandemic & to argue that public health measures are an unwarranted overreaction. Nevertheless you may simply be working with inadequate information, so let me provide some.

      To date, Alberta has seen a grand total of 1,818 deaths from COVID-19. The worst recent year for influenza in Alberta, as reported at the website kindly linked by our host, was 2017-18, when 92 deaths were recorded. So, for every death from influenza reported that year, almost 20 have died from this new plague. And it isn’t over yet.

      In addition, while long-term sequelae from serious influenza illness are exceedingly rare, emerging data on COVID suggest that up to one in five symptomatic cases that survive become so-called “long-haulers”, suffering long term effects such as reduced pulmonary function, cardiomyopathy, early fatiguability, and so on. So, this disease is far more serious than many would lead us to believe.

      Full disclosure: I do not claim to be a public health expert. However, my Nursing practice involves a population — people living with heart disease — known to be at high risk for serious outcomes if infected with COVID-19, and I have endeavoured to become as informed about this issue as practicable. As such, I have read numerous articles in the professional literature and attend multiple webinars on this issue.

      Stay well, Sir.

      Reply
    • Firth of Fifth

      February 21st, 2021

      Stats are easily found, and kindly provided by Mr DJC. It’s not even remotely close, to the point that the deniers hardly make the flu comparison anymore. Not saying that you are a denier but the facts clearly speak for themselves.

      Reply
  6. Anonymous

    February 20th, 2021

    I don’t think that putting people’s lives at risk is the smartest thing to do. I do know people who have Covid-19, and one who also goes to my church has it. Why would this pastor ignore what’s going on?

    Reply
    • Mickey Rat

      February 21st, 2021

      I know people who have had Covid 19 with symptoms so mild they would not have known they had it other than getting a positive test. I also know that people have been killed by Covid 19. This shepherd Coates isn’t ignoring what’s going on, he sees it as clearly as the rest of us do – it’s just that he only cares about his religion not people. Read his public statement DJC links to above, he doesn’t care about anyone on earth only his religion.

      It’s also kinda interesting that Mr. Coates claims his position is supported by the Premier of Alberta saying this is just “influenza” but I guess we can leave that to Mr. Kenny to respond to – or not.

      I think some preachers are fighting to have in-person gatherings because the online services don’t bring in the donations like hands-on influencing does, and I will say that I can appreciate or even respect that. But don’t give us this “you to be reconciled to God” so suck it up and die bullshit. Yeah let James Coates rot in jail…

      Reply
  7. Patrick Linehan

    February 20th, 2021

    Render unto Cæsar the things that are Cæsar’s…

    Reply
  8. Bill Malcolm

    February 20th, 2021

    Let’s get down to brass tacks here, shall we, and to heck with being PC with everyone wringing their hands about perceived this and that. Holding these illegal religious services time after time is a threat to the wider public if a couple of the worshippers are Covid positive, spread it to other members of the flock, and all of them then gallivant about the wider community. There have been Covid superspreader events all over the country as we all know, and the virus couldn’t care less about Jesus or a cracked view of “rights” in a declared emergency. This man Coates is a wacked-out nutter, and a great deal of everyone’s future time would not be wasted if he were properly examined by a psychiatrist now while he cools his heels on remand. It seems improbable that he is “normal” and well-adjusted. He is not the equivalent of a conscientious objector.

    If a person is not grounded in reality, and cannot distinguish a public health threat from a hole in the ground, and furthermore starts to warble on about freedoms while being a threat to my health and those of others by wandering around in a mental daze, I expect government, which is the wider us, to confine them away from regular folk going about their limited but necessary Covid business such as grocery shopping.

    I think that one of the basic problems is that most people have never been in a situation where things are really serious, and where backtalking claptrap from nutters was simply not tolerated. I had many relatives who suffered through WW2 both in England and here in Canada, and standing up and warbling like a deranged coot wasn’t allowed, period. This pandemic has decimated both people and the economy because the provincial premiers are about as dumb as you can imagine, and haven’t really got serious with their publics to insist they act like adults, or else. Instead, they have pandered to business groups and never had a proper lockdown without loopholes and being lifted too early after each wave or when some crackpot idea crosses their tiny minds. This pandemic is serious business, and both New Zealand and Australia have shown what it takes to tamp it down: no messing around lockdowns, no excuses. That way, normality can return sooner. This half-hearted and half serious effort to control the virus has NOT worked in Canada, but then we have peabrained ideological premiers running provinces who cannot think straight themselves. No wonder idiots at large feel empowered to invent theories about how serious this virus isn’t to their limited intellectual capacity and non-expert reasoning and are not held to account, because dopes like kenney and Fraud are nominally in charge of provinces and don’t know which way is up themselves. Combine that with people who really have little grasp of reality like this Coates fellow, and you end up allowing nitwits to have a podium they do not deserve.

    It’s not surprising that people in Ontario want the lockdown to continue, and that epidemiologists agree with them, but Fraud is on some Con wavelength that prevents him from “getting it”. What a bloody state we’ve allowed our country to get in this past year! Half measures for halfwits. Snowbirds and others who are upset with the Federal measures now imposed on them when they return to Canada, at their personal convenience of course, I have no time for whatsoever. You chose your bed, now lie in it.

    I am not impressed. It has all been ridiculously badly handled for a year now, and platitudes from politicians instead of straight down-to-earth plain talk and action has only extended the societal grief while accomplishing almost exactly nothing, while likely causing unnecessary death and illness. It has been an unmitigated shit show.

    Reply
  9. Firth of Fifth

    February 20th, 2021

    Lock the pastor up and throw away the key in accordance of public health violations. He’s using his pulpit not to spread the Good Word but to espouse his dangerous neoliberal political views. This nut job has had way too much media coverage and now it’s almost past the point of no return. Our feckless enforcement officers completely failed in their duty; they should have thrown the book at him after the first case of non-compliance and perhaps we would have been spared this drama and the good pastor would not have received the 15 minutes of fame he obviously craves.

    Reply
  10. Just Me

    February 20th, 2021

    I am reminded of the time I attended (for purely investigative purposes) one of Kenney’s “Unite the Right” rallies in rural Alberta, deep, deep in the Wildrose heartland. It took place at a local community hall and the parking lot was packed, bumper to bumper, with pickup trucks and those big cars old people like to drive. Parking had even extended into a nearby field and the road. As I walked through the parking lot, I noticed that every vehicle’s bumper was festooned with an assortment of bumperstickers. The messages were all consistent …

    “F*ck Turdeau”
    “I (heart) Alberta Oil.” or…”Beef” Sometimes both.
    “Ottawa can blow me” This one was by far my favourite.
    “Free Alberta”
    “Jesus is Lord” This one was very popular.
    I also noticed a lot of those plastic stick-on Christian fish-badges, along with the Alberta flag stickers.

    Yes, this is Kenney’s base.

    The meeting began with the Lord’s Prayer, followed by “God Save the Queen”. I presume the singing of O’Canada would have caused a lynching, given the temperament of the crowd.

    Over the course of the event, Kenney pledged to defend Alberta values against Ottawa, the Globalists, the radical leftist environmentalists, and the UN. Alberta would have its own police force, pension, and a truly secure health care system. Those in the crowded room nodded to Kenney’s every word, and some even took the opportunity to yell “traitor” every time Trudeau’s name was mentioned. When Kenney mentioned Stephen Harper’s name, the crowd clapped and cheered the “greatest prime minister in all of our lifetimes”. And Kenney pledged to defend life, from conception until the grave. He got a standing ovation, along with shouts of “Trudeau is a murderer”, for that one.

    Now that Premier Crying & Angry Midget is having to deal with pointed assaults from his own base — a base that he groomed with conspiracy nonsense — one wonders how much longer Kenney’s gong show will keep going?

    Albertans are world-renown for being the stupidest people alive, so I’m not holding my breath.

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      February 22nd, 2021

      DJC

      Reply
    • tom in Ontario

      February 22nd, 2021

      “Yes, this is Kenney’s base.”
      Sounds like a Trump rally minus the open carry weaponry. You were wise to keep a low profile.

      Reply
  11. CovKid

    February 20th, 2021

    Well, if you can thin out the evangelical crowd, let’s go for it!

    Reply
  12. Abs

    February 20th, 2021

    Are there tiki torches in the church parking lot, and do ritual sacrifices take place there? Asking for a friend named Q.

    Reply
  13. Dave

    February 21st, 2021

    Most churches and congregations have accommodated themselves to the current situation, as has most of the rest of society. And not only that, we have all had to make sacrifices over the last year and face various restrictions. Most people understand the reasons for the restrictions and that they are for our own and everyone else’s health. We are dealing with a communicable disease here, a new one that people do not have general immunity to yet and has killed more people than the flu in the last 10 years.

    So meanwhile, Mr. Coates grandstands – I refuse to call him pastor, that would give him more respect than he deserves, as he is putting the lives of his congregation and those who may be in contact with them, at risk. There already have been a number of outbreaks due to religious gatherings and some have resulted in deaths. So, it seems to me it is not unreasonable to put some limits on the size and proximity of people in these gatherings. Pretty much every public gathering and most private ones face some sort of restriction at this point, so this is definitely not singling out Mr. Coates, his church or any religion.

    However, back to your point. No, I doubt the provincial government will enforce its own recent laws against demonstrations in front of public buildings. Not because they may not be applicable, but because they were not intended to be used against Mr. Coates. So much like wheat board protesters, some on the right will sympathize with him and some even may regard him as a martyr. It does show the hypocrisy around the rules though, if there are good protesters who have the freedom to protest and other protesters whom the provincial government wants to restrict.

    Reply
  14. Abs

    February 21st, 2021

    Meanwhile at the Legislature, the tiki torches were out for a “Jericho March”. Toxic abandoned oil wells, toxic mining and toxic people: the trifecta. This is Alberta under the UCP. This is what Albertans voted for in 2019. It’s too late now to say sorry.

    Reply
  15. Herb Jerb

    February 22nd, 2021

    When are the managers of Costcos and Walmarts going to be jailed for operating over capacity?

    Reply

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