Free Reformed Church is seen as people attend Sunday service, in Chilliwack, B.C., Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021. British Columbia’s top doctor says she is thankful a petition challenging her COVID-19 orders in B.C. Supreme Court has been dismissed. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Free Reformed Church is seen as people attend Sunday service, in Chilliwack, B.C., Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021. British Columbia’s top doctor says she is thankful a petition challenging her COVID-19 orders in B.C. Supreme Court has been dismissed. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

B.C.’s top doctor ‘thankful’ as court ruling upholds public health orders

Dr. Henry says officials working with religious groups to plan gradual return to in-person services

British Columbia’s top doctor says she is thankful a petition challenging her COVID-19 orders in B.C. Supreme Court has been dismissed.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says in a statement on Friday she is thankful for Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson’s “thoughtful decision upholding public health orders in regards to religious gatherings.”

Health officials have regularly engaged with faith leaders throughout the pandemic and they’re working together to develop plans for a safe and gradual return to in-person religious services, she added.

A group of three Fraser Valley churches sought to hold in-person services, which have mostly been banned since November, and filed a petition in January arguing Henry’s orders infringed on their right to religious freedom.

Paul Jaffe, a lawyer with the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, argued in hearings earlier this month the infringements were unjustifiable.

Hinkson agreed the petitioners’ rights were infringed, but found it was justified as Henry’s orders struck a “reasonable and proportionate” balance between their constitutional rights and her statutory power and responsibility to protect people during the pandemic.

“Against the serious risks that are associated with the pandemic, she is obliged to balance a wide variety of competing rights and interests of British Columbians and visitors to our province,” he says in a written ruling.

“Her decision was made in the face of significant uncertainty and required highly specialized medical and scientific expertise.”

Hinkson noted Henry “carefully considered the significant impacts” of her orders on religious freedom, consulting with faith communities and allowing forms of worship such as individual meetings with religious leaders.

“Her orders are limited in duration and constantly revised and reassessed to respond to current scientific evidence and epidemiological conditions.”

Jaffe had told the court the petitioners — which included the Riverside Calvary Chapel in Langley, Immanuel Covenant Reformed Church in Abbotsford and the Free Reformed Church of Chilliwack — adopted safety protocols similar to those approved by Henry in places that remain open.

He says in a statement the Calgary-based legal advocacy group will discuss the decision with its clients, including the prospect of an appeal.

The centre says it’s pleased that Hinkson ruled in favour of an individual petitioner, Alain Beaudoin of Dawson Creek, finding Henry’s orders unjustifiably violated his right to public protest.

Beaudoin had also petitioned the court to quash a $2,300 violation ticket he received after helping to organize a protest last December over what he argued was an abuse of government power through COVID-19 rules.

Hinkson declined to overturn the ticket, agreeing with lawyers for Henry and the province that he should not rule on its validity without access to the factual background that resulted in the ticket being issued.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Photo collage of loved ones lost to substance use and overdose. (Photo courtesy Moms Stop The Harm)
B.C. overdose deaths still rising 5 years after public health emergency declared

Moms Stop the Harm calls on B.C. to provide safe supply in response to deadly illicit drug use

A black bear tries to get at a bird feeder at a home near Williams Lake. (Laura Ulrich photo)
Managing bear attractants a top priority in B.C. for 2021: Conservation Officer Service

Garbage, fruit trees, bird feeders, compost and livestock are common attractants for bears

B.C. Cattlemen’s Association general manager Kevin Boon. (B.C. Cattlemen’s Association photo)
COVID, BSE, water access and private land rights: B.C. Cattlemen’s general manager weighs in

Kevin Boon said positive aspect of pandemic is more people interested in where their food comes from

Restaurant patrons enjoy the weather on a patio in Vancouver, B.C., Monday, April 5, 2021. The province has suspended indoor dining at restaurants and pubs until at least April 19 in B.C. due to a spike in COVID-19 numbers. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. sets new COVID-19 daily record with 1,293 cases Thursday

New order allows workplace closures when infections found

Demonstrators at the legislature on April 14 called on the province to decriminalize drug possession and provide widespread access to regulated safe supply across B.C. (Jake Romphf/News Staff)
Rally calls for decriminalization, safe supply on 5th anniversay of overdose emergency declaration

From 2016 to the end of February, 7,072 British Columbians died due to overdose

(Government of Canada)
Liberal MP caught stark naked during House of Commons video conference

William Amos, in Quebec, appeared on the screens of his fellow members of Parliament completely naked

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, Feb. 1, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count jumps to 1,168 Wednesday, nearly 400 in hospital

Now 120 coronavirus patients in intensive care, six more deaths

Moss covered branches are seen in the Avatar Old Growth Forest near Port Renfrew on Vancouver Island, B.C. Thursday, Sept. 29, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. blockades aimed at protecting old-growth forests reveal First Nation split

Two Pacheedaht chiefs say they’re ‘concerned about the increasing polarization over forestry activities’ in the territory

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Richmond RCMP Chief Superintendent Will Ng said, in March, the force received a stand-out number of seven reports of incidents that appeared to have “racial undertones.” (Phil McLachlan/Capital News)
‘Racially motivated’ incidents on the rise in B.C’s 4th largest city: police

Three incidents in Richmond are currently being invested as hate crimes, says RCMP Chief Superintendent Will Ng

Commercial trucks head south towards the Pacific Highway border crossing Wednesday (April 14, 2021). The union representing Canadian border officers wants its members to be included on the frontline priority list for the COVID-19 vaccine. (Aaron Hinks photo)
CBSA officers’ union calls for vaccine priority in B.C.

Border officers at ports including, YVR and land crossings should ‘not be left behind’

A still from the video taken of a violent arrest on May 30, 2020 in downtown Kelowna. (File)
Kelowna Mountie charged with assault for caught-on-camera violent arrest

Const. Siggy Pietrzak was filmed punching a suspected impaired driver at least 10 times during an arrest

Most Read