May 16, 2021
GraceLife Church of Edmonton is continuing to hold services despite having their church shuttered and Alberta putting a stronger emphasis on enforcing public health measures.
Despite the closure, the church has uploaded YouTube videos each week over the past month showing Pastor James Coates delivering sermons in undisclosed locations. A video of last Sunday’s service shows Coates delivering a nearly hour-long sermon in front of a grey background. No one else can be seen in the video, but others can be heard in the background on multiple occassions. In past videos, parts of a crowd can be seen watching the sermons.
Representatives for GraceLife did not return requests for comment. In the first video after Alberta Health Services seized the church, Coates begins his sermon by saying “They can take our facility, but we’ll just find another one.”
Alberta Health Services spokesman Kerry Williamson said they are aware of the videos being posted online but they cannot currently enforce health measures for these gatherings.
“AHS Environmental Public Health can only investigate if we have an address or location. We currently do not have that,” said Williamson.
GraceLife has been one of the most vocal opponents to public health measures aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19, calling into question the effectiveness of the restrictions. The church continued to open to crowds for Sunday services throughout most of 2021 despite restrictions previously limiting worship services to 15 per cent of the building’s fire code. Current restrictions limit such gatherings to a max of 15 people.
The defiance shown by the Parkland County church led to Coates being put in jail for more than a month and eventually led to Alberta Health Services closing GraceLife’s building, chaining the doors shut and erecting several layers of fencing around the building. Coates recently appeared in court to fight a ticket he received in December 2020.
The videos of the latest sermons are being posted as provincial officials have made declarations of the need to enforce current restrictions. Premier Jason Kenney announced earlier this month that tickets for violating health measures would now come with a $2,000 fine, up from a previous $1,000.
That same day, Justice Minister Kaycee Madu said the province would be partnering with law enforcement, AHS, Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis, Occupational Health and Safety and provincial prosecution services to target repeat offenders.
“Representatives from these agencies will co-ordinate plans in order to review and address the particular circumstances of each case of non-compliance,” said Madu. “Some cases may require further investigation and some may trigger enforcement powers such as fines or revoking of licences.”
He said each agency will continue to operate under its own mandate but would be able to share information with one another. Repeat offenders who do not pay their tickets could face issues at provincial registry services, such as trying to renewing their licence, until they have paid their fines.
Alberta RCMP said three tickets relating to COVID-19 measures were issued from May 3-9. A further five tickets were issued this past weekend: two were at an anti-lockdown rally at the Whistle Stop Café in Central Alberta, one was issued on a highway near the rally, one at a party in Grande Prairie and one to a non-compliant restaurant in Parkland County. From April 26 to May 2, there were seven such tickets issued by RCMP.
RCMP spokesman Fraser Logan said while they work with the province on broad mandates, there is not a link between politicians speaking out against repeat offenders and the number of tickets handed out by RCMP.
“Law enforcement deals with broad mandates (rural crime reduction as an example) from the province, but we certainly do not take direction from the province as to how to conduct our policing operations in specific jurisdictions,” Logan said in an email.
In Edmonton, city police issued four tickets the first week of May. Calgary Police Services issued eight face covering-related tickets that same week, but none related to the Public Health Act or the state of local emergency.