Free Reformed Church is seen as people attend service, in Chilliwack, B.C., on Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021. Lawyers for the British Columbia government and the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms are back in B.C. Supreme Court today, squaring off over the legality of COVID-19 rules that prohibit in-person religious services. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Free Reformed Church is seen as people attend service, in Chilliwack, B.C., on Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021. Lawyers for the British Columbia government and the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms are back in B.C. Supreme Court today, squaring off over the legality of COVID-19 rules that prohibit in-person religious services. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Churches’ challenge of public health rules back in B.C. Supreme Court

Three Fraser Valley churches argue health orders interfere with charter right to freedom of religion

VANCOUVER — Lawyers for the British Columbia government and the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms are back in B.C. Supreme Court today, squaring off over the legality of COVID-19 rules that prohibit in-person religious services.

Paul Jaffe, a lawyer for the group of petitioners that includes three Fraser Valley churches, has argued the health orders substantially and arbitrarily interfere with his clients’ charter right to freedom of religion.

The group has also asked the court to dismiss tickets of up to $2,300 each for alleged violations of the orders first introduced last November.

Gareth Morley, a lawyer for the attorney general, told the court earlier this week that B.C.’s provincial health officer has the statutory power to ensure public health by proportionally and reasonably limiting certain freedoms.

He has argued that Dr. Bonnie Henry understands the importance of balancing restrictions against the right to freedom of religion and that she has outlined her reasoning both verbally in public briefings and in writing.

However, Morley acknowledged to Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson that it was not until the current order was amended last month that the document included specific reference to Henry’s recognition of charter rights.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 5, 2021.

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