On Monday, provincial court Judge Robert Shaigec dismissed a Charter application from Coates, whose church was shuttered by authorities in April for repeatedly holding services in violation of COVID-19 public health orders.
Shaigec has yet to decide on the constitutionality of the orders themselves.
Coates spent 35 days in jail for refusing to comply with bail conditions requiring him to obey COVID-19 restrictions. He now faces a single charge under the Public Health Act.
Monday’s decision dealt specifically with a Dec. 20, 2020, health inspection at GraceLife. After the service that day, Coates was issued a ticket for failing to enforce masking, social distancing and capacity limits, which at the time were set at 15 per cent of fire code capacity.
Coates claimed the conduct of the health inspector, Janine Hanrahan, disrupted the service and amounted to state interference in the practise of religion.
Shaigec dismissed that argument, however, noting Alberta Health Services (AHS) was not targeting GraceLife to the exclusion of other faith groups.
He also noted the enforcement action came in response to public complaints, and that the issuing of the ticket itself was “quick and respectful” and occurred after the worship service ended.
Coates’ claim that the public health order denied 85 per cent of GraceLife’s congregation the right to worship also fell short. Shaigec found no infringement, in part because the law was not followed.
Coates also claimed AHS’s enforcement action violated his freedom of expression, noting it came after he delivered a sermon that was critical of politicians and public health officials.
The pastor claimed the ticket was intended to impose a “chilling” effect, but Shaigec said such an interpretation is “unsupported by and wholly inconsistent with the facts of this case.”
Coates also claimed Charter violations related to his imprisonment at the Edmonton Remand Centre, including the bail condition that he not conduct church services.
Shaigec found no fault with the government’s actions on that score, either. He found no breaches under the sections of the Charter that deal with due process and the right to timely bail.
“Religious freedoms are subject to the rule of law,” Shaigec said.
Adams said most scholars believe the public health orders do infringe on some Charter rights. The key question, he said, is whether the government can justify those infringements under Section 1 of the Charter.
“That ultimate question remains to be answered,” he said.