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Prosecutors say Chilliwack pastor’s Charter challenge over COVID ticket should not be heard

Hearing this week in Abbotsford has Crown arguing the B.C. Supreme Court already set precedent
Rev. John Koopman of Free Reformed Church in Chilliwack who was found guilty of violating COVID-19 orders on religious gatherings. (Screenshot

A judge in Abbotsford may decide this week whether or not a Charter argument being made by a church pastor convicted of violating COVID restrictions should even be heard at all.

Rev. John Koopman is the Chilliwack church pastor – one of at least three in the Fraser Valley – ticketed for violating COVID-19 gathering restrictions in 2020.

He fought the ticket, but Judge Andrea Ormiston found Koopman guilty in November. Her narrow decision was essentially that he was the one who organized the church event on Dec. 6, 2020 and he knew it was not allowed under the law.

READ MORE: Chilliwack pastor found guilty of hosting church service in violation of COVID rules

Koopman along with pastors James Butler and Timothy Champ – of Chilliwack Free Reformed Church, Free Grace Baptist Church, and Valley Heights Community Church respectively – each faced more than a dozen violation tickets for incidents in December 2020 and January 2021.

Koopman’s lawyer Paul Jaffe, a lawyer with the Alberta-based Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF), immediately stated that he would be making the constitutional challenge arguing that the provincial Gathering and Events (G&E) Order violated sections of the Charter.

The reason for the hearing this week, a so-called Vukelich hearing, is to determine if the Charter challenge has any merit. Crown is arguing that it does not because the matter has already been settled by the B.C. Supreme Court in the case of R v. Beaudoin in 2021.

In that case, the court determined that the restrictions imposed by the Gathering and Events order did indeed infringe on sections 2(c) and (d) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, however the infringement was justified under section 1 of the Charter.

Sections 2(c) and (d) cover the rights to participate in peaceful assemblies and the freedom of association, respectively. Section 1 is the limiting part of the Charter, specifically saying, “that Charter rights can be limited by law so long as those limits can be shown to be reasonable in a free and democratic society.”

On March 18, 2021, the Beaudoin case (which involved Alain Beaudoin, Brent Smith, John Koopman, John Van Muyen, Riverside Calvary Chapel, Immanuel Covenant Reformed Church, and Free Reformed Church of Chilliwack) was an appeal of their tickets against the provincial government and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry. The B.C. Supreme Court decided that while the government’s health orders did violate sections 2(c) and (d), it was justified under section 1.

”Although the impacts of the G&E orders on the religious petitioners’ rights are significant, the benefits to the objectives of the orders are even more so,” Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson wrote in his decision. “In my view, the orders represent a reasonable and proportionate balance.”

Because of the precedent set by Beaudoin, Crown counsel is asking the court to toss out Jaffe’s Charter application to overturn the guilty verdict by Judge Ormiston in Chilliwack.

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