A supporter stands outside court in Edmonton on Thursday, March 4, 2021, as Pastor James Coates of GraceLife Church appears in court to appeal bail conditions. He was arrested for allegedly holding Sunday services in violation of COVID-19 rules. A trial is to begin Monday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

Trial to begin for Alberta pastor accused of violating COVID-19 health orders

EDMONTON — The trial of an Alberta pastor accused of not following public health orders meant to curb the spread of COVID-19 is to begin today.

Pastor James Coates of GraceLife Church spent a month in jail for violating a bail condition not to hold church services that officials have said ignored measures on capacity limits, physical distancing and masking.

He was released March 22 after pleading guilty and was fined $1,500.

The pastor and the Edmonton-area church still face one charge of violating Alberta’s Public Health Act.

Lawyers for Coates have said they will argue that the provincial government needs to be held accountable for COVID-19 rules that the lawyers say infringe on the constitutional right to freedom of religion and peaceful assembly.

Alberta Health Services has said GraceLife and its pastor continued to hold services exceeding capacity despite the charges and multiple warnings.

The church was shut down and fenced off by health officers in early April.

The trial in Edmonton provincial court is expected to last three to four days.

The Canadian Press

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