Churches in the United States are open partially or fully in most states — and have returned to 100% capacity in most locations. Some have even gotten rid of mask mandates as Americans have gotten vaccinated and COVID case numbers and deaths decline rapidly.
But that’s not the case in Canada. There’s not only are lockdowns continuing in some locations but churches are not free to hold worship services. And one pastor in Calgary was recetnyl arrested at home, in front of his children, for the crime of praising God in church.
The most recent Canadian religious leader to face fines and jail time for defying COVID lockdowns is Tim Stephens, pastor of Fairview Baptist Church in Alberta. Stephens was accused of holding a large, maskless, and non-socially distanced worship service and was arrested by Calgary police. After a police helicopter discovered Stephens’ congregation meeting for a secret outdoor service on June 13, Stephens was apprehended the next day. In front of his home, his eight children cried as Stephens embraced the family before peacefully complying with the arrest.
Stephens’ wife, Raquel, questioned an officer, saying, “No other jurisdiction is imprisoning pastors for breaking health orders … Are you going to take me away from them [her children] too?”
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Stephens’ purported crimes are violations of Alberta’s still-enforced COVID restrictions. As of June 10, Alberta entered their “stage two” of reopening with most buildings capped at 33 percent occupancy. Dining in a restaurant, attending church services, and having indoor gatherings remain prohibited in Alberta.
This is the second time Alberta Health Services has served Stephens a charge. Last month, they failed to provide a court order he was accused of violating. Stephens currently remains in custody after denying a Justice of the Peace’s bail condition, which was agreeing to cease holding worship services. His next court appearance is scheduled for June 28. He will be represented by the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, which is advocating for his immediate release. Raquel Stephens organized a peaceful rally for her husband and for religious liberty in Canada on Saturday.
This is not the first time a pastor has recently been arrested for holding a church service in violation of strict government mandates.
Just last month, a “[h]eavily-armed SWAT police” team arrested and dragged off a Christian pastor in the middle of a highway after he had held his church service because he was “inciting” people to go to church. As you can see from video evidence of the arrest, Artur Pawlowski is made to kneel on the road, with his hands behind his head, as he’s been handcuffed. It appears to have been raining.
Rebel News, which has been following Pastor Pawlowski’s legal plight, reported on the update, complete with video evidence. The breaking news article aptly noted that “Arresting Christians for holding church services is what police states do, not liberal democracies. This has to stop.” They are also promoting a legal defense fund for the pastor.
A third Canadian pastor was also arrested:
Another pastor in Alberta, James Coates, spent a month in jail and was issued a $1,500 fine in March after breaching bail by refusing to comply with the Canada’s COVID laws. Before his arrest, Coates’s GraceLife Church was surrounded by security cars and police put up wire fencing around the building to prevent entry.
Coates said to the judge, “I’m simply here in obedience to Jesus Christ, and it’s my obedience to Christ that has put me at odds with the law. The court is aware that I’m contesting the legitimacy of that law but please, make no mistake … I’m not trying to make a point. I’m not a political revolutionary.”