RCMP personnel fenced off GraceLife Church in Parkland County southwest of Edmonton this morning for repeated violations of COVID-19 public health restrictions.
In a statement, Alberta Health Services (AHS) said it has "physically closed" the church and would prevent further access to the building until church officials "can demonstrate the ability to comply with Alberta's Chief Medical Officer of Health's restrictions."
AHS said that between July 10 and April 6 it received 105 complaints from the public about the church's activities and that since July 10 AHS health inspectors conducted 18 inspections at the site since and violations were observed at each visit.
"With COVID-19 cases increasing and the more easily-transmitted and potentially more severe variants becoming dominant, there is urgent need to minimize spread to protect all Albertans," the statement said.
AHS also said it has tried to work collaboratively with the church for several months to address the public health concerns. Steps taken included:
- An order by Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw requiring the church to close.
- A Court of Queen's Bench Order on January 21 requiring compliance with the previous order.
- An order on January 29 requiring the church to be closed until compliance with restrictions was attained.
- An invitation to Pastor James Coates to meet virtually to discuss the risks presented by COVID-19 -- to which the church has not provided dates to meet.
While it's hard to believe AHS and the RCMP made the move without consultation with Premier Jason Kenney's cabinet, right-wing media, culture warriors in the United Conservative Party base, and the lawyers who represent groups like GraceLife Church can all be expected to be busy.
Proof of whether the government really has its heart in this will come on Sunday, if the fences are still up around the church.
David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions at The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald.
Image: Gracelife Church of Edmonton/Facebook
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