A Canadian pastor has been acquitted of violating coronavirus worship restrictions after spending time in jail last year for holding worship services.
The Provincial Court of Alberta acquitted Pastor Tim Stephens of Fairview Baptist Church in Calgary of charges that he violated public health orders imposed by the provincial government during the coronavirus pandemic.
Stephens was jailed for 21 days after refusing to abide by the ongoing worship bans and was fined several times. A previous court ruling dropped four of the tickets levied against the pastor. Tuesday’s decision dealt with the remaining two. He was represented by the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms.
“We are pleased that the Court has acquitted Pastor Stephens on the charges of not complying with a public health order,” the law firm said in a statement.
“Pastor Stephens was illegally arrested and imprisoned for having allegedly violated the Public Health Orders, which have since been shown to be ineffective and harmful. This decision sets the record straight about the justifiability of his actions and about the importance of respecting Charter rights and freedoms.”
In a Wednesday blog post on his church’s website, Stephens elaborated on his ordeal over the past year.
“After a trial on September 15, 2021, where I took the stand to make my defense on two counts of violating the Chief Medical Officer’s COVID health orders, the written decision was given yesterday by the judge. In short, the judge found me not guilty,” Stephens wrote.
Stephens listed the charges that he faced throughout his legal battle: “3 [Public Health Act] violations for failing to wear a mask — all withdrawn; 2 PHA violations for exceeding capacity limit — both withdrawn; 2 PHA violations for failing to physical distance — went to trial, acquitted on both counts; 1 contempt of court charge — spent 3 days in jail, then withdrawn; 1 criminal charge for violating a court order — spent 18 days in jail, then withdrawn; 1 PHA violation against the church — waiting to schedule trial.”
The ruling dealt with tickets issued in response to church services on Feb. 28, 2021, and Mar. 7, 2021, that authorities said did not comply with coronavirus worship restrictions and social distancing requirements.
Stephens characterized the decision as a “small victory” that he attributed to “the special providence of God.”
“In God’s plan it was this judge presiding over the matter who seemed to have no desire to continue the heavy handed use of the law to punish dissenting opinions,” he concluded. “As I reflect on recent events, I’m certainly pleased with the outcome yet realize there is more work to be done.”UnmuteAdvanced SettingsFullscreenPauseUp Next
Stephens believes the work to be done is not “political” or “legal” but “theological.”
“Our society with its laws, mandates, and opinions reflect a change of ‘god’ with corresponding views of authority and humanity that will lead to dystopia unless there is repentance,” Stephens wrote.
“No longer are we a nation built upon the supremacy of God and the rule of law, but we are seeking to do away with God and his law to enshrine the shifting and harmful opinions of sinful man and his selfish machinations,” Stephens lamented. “The need of the hour is the proclamation of the good news of the kingdom of God and for his kingdom to be manifest in our churches, households, and society.”
Stephens is one of several Canadian pastors who became entangled in the legal system because of their advocacy against coronavirus worship restrictions and hosting in-person worship services.
Artur Pawlowski, a Calgary pastor also represented by the Justice Centre, went viral after tense exchanges between the Polish-born church leader and government officials seeking to enforce coronavirus worship restrictions circulated online.
Pawlowski also spent time in jail for holding an in-person worship service in violation of coronavirus worship restrictions. He detailed his experience in a previous interview with The Christian Post. He recalled receiving more than two dozen tickets, three court orders, two injunctions and two court contempt trials.
Pawlowski won a legal victory when the Alberta Court of Appeal dismissed a contempt-of-court charge levied against him by a lower court. While public officials touted the coronavirus worship restrictions as necessary to stop the spread of the coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 6.5 million people worldwide and over 46,000 people in Canada, critics such as Stephens and Pawlowski saw the restrictions as unnecessarily stringent and hostile toward people of faith.
In his blog post, Stephens said, “the health orders and court orders used to scare many into compliance were overly broad, hurried into use, and do not provide the legal right for the government to regulate the worship of the church with lockdown measures that have proved harmful and ineffective.”