DAY ONE: Pastor Coates on trial for violating public health orders

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Rebel News reporter Sheila Gunn Reid watched and live-tweeting the first day (May 3, 2021) of the trial of Pastor James Coates, who allegedly violated public health orders by not limiting his GraceLife Church congregation.

Coates is represented by Leighton Grey and James Kitchen of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms. 

Here’s what Sheila noted from the morning session:

(12:09 PM ET / 10:09 AM MT) Side note: lawyer for JCCF repping Coates, James Kitchen, is not wearing a mask. Had to explain to the court that he was medically exempt. Judge reminds him that he can attend remotely. Kitchen declines.

Court room is at capacity

First witness in Coates trial: Janine Hanrahan from Alberta Health Services – she’s a health inspector. Been on the job 8 years. 2.5 with AHS.

Going through her ed experience now.

AHS inspector Janine Hanrahan says that she responded to GraceLife Church based on complaints about non-compliance at the church first on November 22nd 2020.

AHS’s Hanrahan says she made recommendations to Coates after entering the church for an inspection ON A SUNDAY (?)

Says she saw people not social distancing, no masks, over capacity. Saw evidence of sanitization supplies.

Coates told her he didn’t want to police congregation

Next visit to GraceLife from AHS inspector Hanrahan during church services came Dec 13. This time she brought with her RCMP, for some reason.

She says she saw groups of people visiting in lobby.

She complains that people were videotaping the RCMP that day.

AHS’s Hanrahan says she went to the balcony to observe the number of people in the sanctuary.

She points out the music ministry wasn’t wearing face masks when they sang from the stage.

(This indicates Hanrahan was inside the church disrupting a religious service in progress)

Hanrahan did not meet with Coates during her disruption of the Dec 13 services at GraceLife

Court playing video now as evidence. Vid taken by AHS inspector hand when she visited the church on December 13, 2020 and interrupted services along with RCMP officers she requested to accompany her.

Vid is of a robust GraceLife congregation singing in sanctuary.

Hanrahan testifies GraceLife was issued a work order on Dec 17 by AHS compelling them to operate within a covid mitigation plan and bring the church up to compliance.

[Hanrahan] testifies she saw no evidence of compliance on Dec 20 2020 – another Sunday inspection with cops

December 20th, Hanrahan testifies that GraceLife elders reminded her and the RCMP that it is a criminal offense to disrupt a church.

She didn’t seem to heed their protestations.

However she put away her camera at this visit.

Hanrahan says she was told repeatedly that it is a criminal offense to disrupt a church service on Dec 20th.

She testifies she told GraceLife elders & Coates that it wasn’t her intent to disrupt service.

(Me: But that’s actually what you do when you show up with two cops)

Hanrahan is testifying that she saw people touching each other in the lobby of the church on December 20th.

She didn’t enter the sanctuary but she did observe it from the balcony at 1045 am.

(That’s during GraceLife’s Bible study. So she interrupted a religious service)

December 20th the GraceLife congregation showed appreciation and offered applause for the RCMP who accompanied AHS inspector Hanrahan.

Hanrahan is now testifying about things she eavesdropped on at GraceLife.

Says she overheard someone call Hinshaw a dictator and said Kenney is hiding behind her. She didn’t hear pandemic denial however she did hear people say the pandemic isn’t going away.

Hanrahan said she left because people started to sing at the Church. Says she didn’t want to potentially get covid

Defense is done with AHS inspector Hanrahan. [UPDATE: Should say “crown” is done. Sorry.]

Leighton Grey for the JCCF will cross-examine her after a short break

Here’s what Sheila tweeted after the break:

(1:08 PM ET / 11:08 AM MT) Court back in session:

Leighton Grey cross examining AHS’s Hanrahan

Hanrahan admits that she did not visit Grace life between her initial contact in July of 2020 and November of 2020.

Admits her interest was revived after complaints from the public.

AHS’s Hanrahan admits to Grey that in all of her contact with GraceLife she was not aware of any covid possible cases at GraceLife… outside of the two related to the church that GraceLife reported on their own, when they moved to online services for 2 weeks in July.

Grey confronts Hanrahan with a conversation she had with James Coates, where Coates tells her she’s violating his Charter rights and interrupting a church service in contravention of the criminal code.

Grey makes Hanrahan explain why she repeatedly had RCMP officers attend with her to the church.

Grey confronts her with notes from an RCMP officer who said Hanrahan told him she feared she would be harmed.

Hanrahan says perhaps the cop misunderstood her remarks.

Grey forces Hanrahan to admit that she didn’t have any concerns that anyone from the church would hurt her.

Hanrahan says what changed was media attention.

([Sheila’s commentary]: So was bringing the cops all theatre for the media?)

Grey: did you hear Pastor Coates thank the police officers for their professionalism? Re: Dec 2020 visit

Hanrahan: yes

Grey: you’ve described some of these activities as risky (people singing re: asymptomatic spread of covid-19). Were you told by your employers (AHS) that singing was a risky behavior?

Hanrahan: yes

Grey: You took that as face value?

Hanrahan: the science made sense to me

Grey: were you trained on the actual effectiveness of masks on the spread of covid-19?

Hanrahan: we were given guidance

Grey: the same would apply to physical distancing?

Hanrahan: yes

Grey: What about 2 meters vs 3?

Hanrahan: I read about it myself

Grey: you said you questioned the reliability of some information about covid19?

Hanrahan: yes

Grey: but what about the information given to you by your employer?

Grey: you didn’t question that?

Hanrahan: yes because its law.

Grey: you see your role as an inspector?
Hanrahan: yes
Grey: and when you discover violations you go back and you make recommendations for those things to be changed, and then if there isn’t compliance, you make a recommendation for violations tickets?
Hanrahan: yes

Grey: you see your role as someone who’s helping the public?
Hanrahan: yes

Grey: so the fire code capacity information that you have is based on the self-reporting from GraceLife Church? Second hand information, wasn’t it? You didn’t collect the data yourself, did you?

Hanrahan: no

Grey: it’s possible that information is wrong?

Hanrahan: I assumed

Hanrahan admits that the information she has about the fire code capacity at GraceLife could be wrong.

Grey: you said something odd in your notes. You said clapping/cheering for RCMP at GL could lead to covid spread.

Hanrahan: yes

Grey: did AHS tell you that?

Hanrahan: no

Grey: so that’s your own theory?

Hanrahan: yes

Grey: did you read that in any studies?

Hanrahan: no

Grey: can you appreciate how forcing the GL congregation to be 6 ft apart might interfere with their experience? Can you understand how these folks might feel that this is interfering with their experience of the service?

Hanrahan: ?

Crown objects.

Grey agrees to rephrase

Grey: enforcing the 15% capacity regulation would mean that 85% of the congregation would need to be removed. That was your expectation?
That 85% of people who wanted to be there would be excluded from fellowship, and worship and prayer?

Hanrahan: yes

Grey: so this isn’t just about restricting the number of people that can be in the church but also what those people can do (clapping singing cheering hugging)

Hanrahan: yes

Grey: you thought it was important to take note of something Coates said to a police officer about the charter of rights and freedoms.

Hanrahan: it made me assume that we were not going to get compliance

Grey: did you ask?

Hanrahan: no I assumed.

Hanrahan is done.

Crown isn’t going to call two police officers as witnesses.

Defence does not object.

Charter issues being dealt with now. Defence filed a notice April 14 2021.

Legal wrangling happening.

(Leighton Grey, with the JCCF, is the indigenous lawyer who was attacked by the left and gave up his appointment to Provincial Court Nominating Committee because he called BLM a Marxist lie. A bunch of privileged white busy bodies tried to ruin his career)

Court in break again.

Court returned from break, only to break again for lunch.

(2:27 PM ET / 12:27PM MT) oh oh – the judge is talking about some of the reporting by the media. That’s probably me.

(FYI: I did submit by undertaking by a non-lawyer to the media liaison this morning. Did not receive any advice not to tweet. In fact, I informed the media contact I would be tweeting)

ok, The judge has advised we can continue to report/tweet/talk about evidence.

This is a blended voir dire – a mini trial within a trial dealing with multiple issues of evidence

Crown application to dismiss the charter notice filed by Coates legal team is dismissed. Great news for Coates.

court is adjourning for lunch.

Time to return 1000 emails.

Court returns and Pastor Coates is called as a witness.

(4:01pm ET / 2:01pm MT) Court is back

Leighton Grey calls Pastor James Coates as his first witness.

Coates choses to affirm his oath on the Bible. Naturally

Pastor Coates details his backstory. He’s from Ontario (I don’t hold it against him). Parents are divorced. Didn’t grow up in a Christian home. Studied kinesiology in university in a 4 years honors program.

Coates is talking about how he came to Christ. Said his mom was saved first. Felt his life was unraveling morally in university (party lifestyle etc) before he found God.

Coates describes going to seminary in LA at age 27 for 3 yrs. He’s 41 now

He came here straight from seminary to Grace Reformed Baptist, now called GraceLife, before GraceLife even had a building. Initially met at a hotel, then a school, before the building in Spruce Grove

Coates describes the doctrinal theology of GraceLife. There is a doctrinal statement being admitted as evidence.

Coates describes the doctrine of GraceLife as that of a Trinitarian theology, with specific views on the nature of salvation and eschatology.

Describes Jesus Christ as the head of his church.

Coates describes the efforts he takes to be biblically accurate in his sermons. To be precise.

Describes his congregation as being “commanded to sing”, describes singing as a “matter of obedience”, a critical way to express “worship”, “love and adoration”

Coates is now describing the importance of in-person meeting

When we come together on Sunday “it is a critical time and the most important time..have set aside other meetings. We put all of our attention on the Sunday gathering because it is something we could not compromise”

Coates describes his role as a shepherd of a flock to bring his flock closet to Christ, as a counsellor. He must be a preacher of the Gospel of Christ, and build congregants up in the teachings of Christ so they can reach spiritual maturity. Says his job is glorify God.

(Coates complains about the difficulty of trying to testify while wearing a mask)

Coates describes the beginning of the pandemic as a difficult time for his congregation as they tried to navigate uncertainty.

Says realized after that it wasn’t as bad as foreshadowed.

Describes initial govt modelling of pandemic as wrong. And an over reaction.

Coates says mask violates his religious freedom. Says that being forced to request his congregation to wear masks, and if they don’t, he must ask them to leave, is a violation of his conscience.

Disputes efficacy of the masks. Calls them a hindrance to communication.

Coates says mask inhibits his ability to sing, express thoughts and feelings, read facial expressions

Calls it a violation of his free expression and deterrent to communication.

Coates calls social distancing a violation of his free association.

Coates calls enforcement of 15% of fire code capacity restrictions “pastoral malpractice”

Calls virtual services “altering what worshiping is”

Describes it as a major interference

“I went to jail for it”

Coates details the 2 cases of individuals at the church who had positive PCR tests. Church did their own contact tracing. No one who had been in contact became sick. Church shut for 2 Sundays.

Then they opened for 37 Sundays without a single case

Coates tells Grey they never wanted this public position.

Says the visits from AHS and RCMP were disruptive, “with Janine looking down from the balcony during Sunday school”

Media were eavesdropping on their services to report in a negative light.

Grey: why did you not limit the church capacity?

Coates: I couldn’t. Because doing that would be saying that we wouldn’t allow people to come to worship.

Coates says: “Conviction. Conscience. Obedience to Christ. It would be sinful to tell people they could not come”

Grey: why did you go to jail?

Coates: RCMP used a tool to bring me into compliance. That tool being the undertaking. I was in violation of a condition I never agreed to.

Grey: what was that condition?

Coates: that I couldn’t set foot in the church grounds unless we complied

Grey: Why didn’t you just comply?

[Coates]: to comply ( to limit the church) would be to sin against God.

Coates is describing his time at the Remand Center for 35 days. Says he could have walked out of the Remand at any time if he would agree to comply with AHS orders.

“On conviction and conscience, I couldn’t do anything but what I did”

“it was hard on the body to be in prison”

Coates says he lost 10 pounds while in the Remand.

Coates says his experience in jail is exactly why virtual church doesn’t work.

Could see his family sometimes online in the form of a visit but that it was not the same as being with them in person.

Coates: “I think this has been a challenging season for our church but the Lord is using it. ..

We have experienced a lot of vitriol. We have been (in some respect) mistreated by the media.”

Describes how congregants have been faced with keeping their jobs or their church life

Coates: “The media fear mongers the people into believing the narrative and the Charter is being pushed aside

The long term ramifications of that are deeply concerning to me.”

Coates: I don’t think this virus poses a real threat to our people… I take in media that provides good exposure to both sides of the debate.

“Janine (Hanrahan) thinks AHS has a monopoly on science”

on break from court. Just in time for the Rebel afternoon staff meeting. Alright

Court returns after a short break.

(5:23 PM ET / 3:23 PM MT) Court is back.

Coates now being cross examined by “unnamed prosecutor”

Describes the difference between himself and elders.

Different roles. Equal authority

Crown: do you not think you’re living in a pandemic?

Coates: the definition of pandemic has changed over the last 10 years.

Crown: did you follow the CMOH order on capacity?

Coates: initially

Crown: do you doubt the accuracy of the PCR rest?

Coates: Austria has ruled against the use of it. The creator of the test said it was never intended for diagnostics of a viral infection

(That checks out btw)

Crown: you don’t believe the PCR rest is accurate?

Coates: right.

Crown: so you won’t get tested?

Coates: I have been tested with a PCR test, twice.

Coates describes both times.

Crown is now going through the visits from AHS/RCMP. Crown trying to downplay their presence. Disrupting the service is illegal

Crown: but you were still able to a conduct a service?

Coates: by God’s grace, yes.

Crown: so people socialize after services?

Coates: it’s more than socializing. It’s fellowship. Socializing is talking about the Oilers game. This is talking about spiritual life.

Coates regarding the first ticket he received:

“it was clear they (RCMP) did not want to be there and did not want to give that ticket. Our interaction was very cordial”

Crown: because of the rising case counts, children cannot go to school. Do you recognize that?

Coates: that’s a govt decision.

Crown: children used to be able to go to school, remember that?

Coates: children are at a very low risk of having serious effects from covid-19.

Grey intervenes.

“What’s the value of this line of questioning?”

Crown: more people are coming to the church now?

Coates: the more people who come to GraceLife the most responsibility we have to the people. We wish more churches were open.

Ok, court is breaking for the day in the trial of James Coates for breaching the public health order restrictions on places of worship. He served 35 days in jail and the province has currently confiscated the church.

Back here tomorrow same time.

930am MST to as late as 5.

Read the Day Two updates by clicking here.