BC government requests authority to have police detain those they suspect of planning to attend church

By Jonathon Van Maren

Back in December, I wrote an essay for Convivium Magazine explaining why churches and houses of worship have been so neglected by politicians during the COVID-19 pandemic and why church-attending Christians, as an increasingly miniscule minority, have seen their services dismissed as non-essential (or even dangerous.) As you may have noticed, I have, for the most part, avoided writing about the pandemic except in relation to the subjects I usually address—there is simply too much about COVID-19, the restrictions, responses, and treatments (etc.) that I do not have the expertise to opine on, and I find it very hard to discern the facts in our competing maelstroms of information and disinformation.

That said, as we enter year two of lockdowns and draconian restrictions without even an attempt by politicians to investigate the cost-benefit with regard to mental health, deferred treatments, and consequences, it is hard not to reach the conclusion that many of them simply have no idea what they’re doing. (One of the primary critics of government responses to the pandemic has been Peter Hitchens, and I interviewed him on the subject for The American Conservative.) Additionally, it is now impossible not to conclude that when it comes to crackdowns on worship, governments are going too far. ARPA Canada, a grassroots Christian advocacy group, has a very good essay objecting to bans on in-person worship, which you can read here.

Some churches across Canada have been meeting for services in defiance of lockdown measures, with a range of responses—some have been fined by police, others have been ignored. Several churches in British Columbia, which has allowed only a handful to meet for services regardless of the size of the building for months, are now simply disobeying the orders. As a result, the government—led, it must be noted, by the New Democratic Party, which called a snap election during a pandemic in order to politically benefit from the dire circumstances the province was in—is going even further. From the CBC:

B.C.’s provincial health officer is seeking an injunction prohibiting gatherings by three Christian churches that are challenging her orders suspending in-person religious services. Lawyers for Dr. Bonnie Henry and B.C.’s attorney general will be in B.C. Supreme Court on Friday seeking orders against the leaders of Langley’s Riverside Calvary Chapel, Abbotsford’s Immanuel Covenant Reformed Church and the Free Reformed Church of Chilliwack.

The province filed an application for the injunction last week along with a response to a petition by the churches and a handful of others who want to overturn Henry’s orders. According to the court documents, the province is seeking an order that would prevent elders and members from gathering to worship in their churches and from organizing celebrations, ceremonies, baptisms, funerals or any other “event” as defined by Henry’s orders.

The order would also authorize police to detain anyone they have grounds to believe is planning to attend a religious service organized by any of the three churches.

The application for the injunction comes just days after Henry announced an indefinite extension to the orders she issued last November suspending all events and social gatherings in an effort to reduce COVID-19 transmission. In a petition filed in early January, pastors with the three Fraser Valley Christian churches claim that Henry is violating rights to expression and religious worship guaranteed by the Constitution by shutting churches while allowing restaurants and businesses to remain open.

Regardless of what you think of what these church leaders are doing—my own denomination is thus far following the government rules—this is incredibly disturbing. To reiterate: The order would authorize police to arrest those that they believe might be planning to attend a religious service at one of these churches. That is an unbelievable overreach, and almost seems to be designed to stick a thumb in the eye of religious leaders. Many politicians have gotten far too comfortable with far-reaching powers over the last year, and this is an extremely unsettling example.

I hope that the injunction is refused and that the churches succeed in court. In America, the U.S. Supreme Court recently overturned California’s restrictions on religious services as unreasonable and neglecting to give weight to the essential nature of worship. I have far less faith in our thoroughly post-Christian judicial system, but perhaps with this draconian request, a government official has finally crossed the line in a manner obvious enough to warrant a rebuke.

26 thoughts on “BC government requests authority to have police detain those they suspect of planning to attend church

  1. Gary Clarke says:

    Officer: Get in the Patrol car please. You’re coming to the station for questioning.
    Christian: What am I being charged with officer…?
    Officer: I’m charging you with “thinking about going to Church”. Subsection 101- ignoring the whims of Bonnie Henry, a Federal Offense under the Conspiracy Act.
    Christian: How in the world could you possibly know that?
    Officer: You have your best Hoodie on, and your sandals are imprinted with ‘Jesus Saves’.
    Christian: That’s it- that’s a Federal Offense?
    Officer: I also heard you humming 3 bars of ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’- against the statute…
    Christian: This can’t be in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms !
    Officer: Are you resisting arrest…..?

    • Sheila Feaver says:

      Perfect! Made me laugh! Could you imagine if that’s how it could eventually happened?! …. and while the Christian is being arrested, along side the cop car, are several drug deals going on, a robbery and gun fight, but dang it, come hell or high water, the cop is gonna take that Christian! ((as I shake my head and laugh at the same time ))

  2. Sam says:

    Question for you, Jonathan.

    The Free Reformed Church of Chiliwack has been defying public health orders since at least November 2020. This is what Pastor Koopman apparently said to the RCMP, then emailed to Pastor Butler of Grace Free Baptist Church and was then read out during a service:

    “We told him [RCMP officer] that we we would be uncompromising and would continue to hold worship even if ticketed or imprisoned.”

    I’m not sure what anyone expected following that. If the orders aren’t respected, they have to be enforced somehow. What is your suggestion?

    The proper method for the churches to deal with the orders is to obey them while challenging them in the courts. To disobey them before the orders are invalidated is to invite the long arm of the law into church.

    What would you suggest?

    Do these pastors want to be martyrs for COVID?

    • Steve says:

      Hi Sam,

      I think you miss the point. It is obvious from your response, that you don’t feel the gathering together is a biblical mandate or essential. So your instruction to simply obey orders while you wait for the courts to agree or disagree with them seems logical and the right thing to do.
      If however you saw their point, that they believe it is disobedient to God to neglect meeting together, and that there is real harm happening among people who are isolated. Then you might see that it isn’t an option to simply wait. They believe they are obeying God rather than man. Regardless of the current restrictions or of a possible future court ruling against them, they MUST follow the dictates of their conscience’s.

      • Sam says:

        [all from KJV]

        1 Peter 2

        13 Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme;
        14 Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well.
        15 For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men:
        16 As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God.
        17 Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king.
        18 Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward.

        Titus 3:
        1 Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work,

        Just to clear, your argument is that the biblical call to gather means that gatherings must be physical in nature, despite the advancement of technology and the serious public health risks there.

        Quite honestly, I don’t think that argument has merit. I don’t recall a Bible verse require an in person gathering – but that is likely because remote gathering was rather difficult in that time.

        By the way, it’s also complicated by the fact that at least Chiliwack Free Reformed Church posts videos of sermons (I cannot confirm they live stream services). So, tell me again, what is the need for a physical gathering? Is it just how the verses have been interpreted?

        I think they have to think deeply about their understanding of the biblical requirements – is this the face of Christianity they want to show.

        • Jean says:

          Assuming your interpretation that the “Bible does not require in person gathering” is valid and correct, should it also apply to marriage or visiting the sick or visiting the prisoners?

          Please explain.

          • Sam says:

            Well, since the article is about BC rules, wedding ceremonies are in person with 10 people in attendance. Are you saying that the ceremony requires more people then that?

            And no, I don’t think that visiting the sick or prisoners needs to be in person. Frankly, with prisoners you’re decently likely to be somewhat virtual anyways (phones around a glass partition, etc.), so there’s no reason to require in person.

            Visiting the sick likely should be virtual, especially if the sick person’s immune system is low or their disease is contagious. I don’t see much gained from an in person visit to someone with Ebola. Plus, a visit to someone with cancer could kill them from an infection, given they have no immune system.

            That said, I would love to know how those activities must be in person.

    • John Winner says:

      Maybe what we need ARE martyrs for Christ. If anyone doesn’t realize that there is systematic discrimination in the limiting of people’s ability to worship, then he/she better give his/her head a good shake. In my Church, we had been set up to allow all kinds of social distancing, but the Ontario Premier decided that 9 was the max. number of people allowed at a Mass, effcetively closing the Church for weekend services. There doesn’t seem to be any problem when people are jammed into a Costco or a Wal-Mart though; funny how that works, eh?

  3. Pastor Bob says:

    Freedom to Worship Jesus Christ is our relationship with The King of King’s. As you touch God’s people you are dealing with an eternal Kingdom. Beware you will answer to the court of Heaven.

    • Sharon says:

      You should read and meditate on Romans 13:1&2. These are. Jesus own words. Why do you figure you can deny his teaching. And yet talk about worshipping him?
      I and my whole congregation are still enjoying our regular 4 meetings a week, our assembly days and our conventions all on Zoom. We are currently preparing for our Memorial of Christ’s death. It can be done and no one needs to miss out on their much needed spiritual bread at this time.

      • Elliott says:

        Pastor Bob picks and chooses his bible verses which selfishly work for him. Once he kills people by infecting them with COVID we’ll see where he ends up in the afterlife.

      • Jean says:

        There’s an obvious reason why in person gathering as a church is VITAL for the body of Christ and necessary for the all non-believers to see.

        The Church of Christ MUST not ever be hidden from mankind as it serves to project upon all Creation the infinite beauty and glory of the Father and of the Son.

        Christ did not die on a virtual cross to give you access to a virtual salvation.

        Your salvation and mine could only be acquired through the very real pain and horrendous suffering endured by Christ on the infamous cross upon which He died.

        In Mattew 10:28 the bible warns us “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Instead, fear the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”

        While the church pretends to serve Christ through Zoom meetings, in the past year we have witnessed an unspeakable tragedy, many Christians both young and old have been left to die spiritually because the church will not stand up and fight for them nor will it fight for the sick and broken.

        Unfortunately, the complacent church stands considerably weakened as it has now become more concerned with it’s social standing rather than with it’s duty to serve God without regards to any and all forms or persecution.

        The COVID-19 pandemic has ushered a time of great pain and suffering in our communities as our own neighbors have lost their livelyhoods, their homes, their loved ones to suicide disease and more. Children of all ages have been exposed and have experienced a level of suffering, neglect and abuse never seen before.

        We need strong churches to stand up, fight with prayer and actions against the powers of darkness who have inflicted and are continuing to devastate and destroy our communities before our very eyes.

        The ONLY hope for our communities is to bring through in-person church gatherings the power of Salvation and the deep healing of the love of Christ to all who are suffering.

        It is URGENT. We can no longer wait.
        All churches MUST open immediately, it truly is a matter of life and death.

        • Sam says:

          Great, I’m sure you will accomplish the goal of projecting “infinite beauty and glory of the Father and of the Son” by alienating a large portion of the population you would like to project that to and turn to God.

          Just saying. If you want to witness, you might want to find a way that will be received.

          • Jean says:

            Please suggest a “non-alienating” approach to witnessing to the population that will ensure the population will receive the message of salvation with an open heart?

            In my opinion, the more relevant question is “how would Christ approach the situation, as in, what would He have said and what would He have done?

            Unless I’m misinterpreting the scriptures, careful examination seems to suggest that Christ Himself was not well received by at least some of the people of His time.

            Are you suggesting Christ should have behaved differently or more appropriately?

            If so, please explain?

        • Sam says:

          I can’t reply to your subsequent comment – it seems the website limits the length of comment chains.

          I think you’re hiding behind Christ’s crucifixion and the the money lender story while ignoring the popularity of His message (see the Sermon on the Mount, the feeding of the 5,000, etc.). You are focusing only on what you perceive to be his brashness and seeking to emulate only one of His characteristics.

          I’m suggesting that Christ likely would have cared about the people more than Himself. I’m suggesting that Christ wouldn’t knowingly put people at risk.

          But then again, American Evangelical Right Wing Republicans made themselves a golden Trump “calf” for CPAC (https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2021/2/26/22302887/trump-cpac-2021-republican-gold-statue), so I’m not sure what else needs to be said about evangelicalism.

          It’s not up to me how you witness to the world; however, if your desire is to make the world a better place, show that and be that. If you can’t be better, why should anyone care?

          • Sam says:

            Jean, I listened to your entire update and have a couple notes.

            1) everything is double hearsay (via via), so be careful trusting the veracity of everything that is said.
            2) charter rights can be infringed without problem (see s. 1, the courts have developed an entire framework around whether the infringement can be saved despite the fact that it infringes. A lot of infringing is saved here as it is deemed reasonable).
            3) a judge’s job is to question both sides, don’t take anything from that.
            4) Bonnie Crombie is a politician in Ontario, so it is not surprising she has a binder of statements her opponent made. A public health official is a doctor not a politician and would not have a similar binder ready.
            5) just because evidence isn’t ready on Tuesday doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
            6) these folks evidently don’t believe a pandemic is raging – that goes against all the data and is a dangerous thing to be posting (lots of death as a result)
            7) they proved they don’t need a church to gather (sidewalk preaching)

      • Jean says:

        One last thing, over the last year, I have travelled on a regular basis to the US.

        On every single trip ever since the beginning of the pandemic, I have had the privilege of attending church services that were literally FULL, where practically no one was wearing a mask or social distancing.

        Moreover, people even had the audacity to shack hands and hug one another as it always has been my experience as a Christian over the last 38 years!

        The good news, not a SINGLE case of COVID-19 EVER, not ONE!

        Is there any reason we couldn’t do the same here in Canada?

        Is SARS-CoV-2 more dangerous in Canada than in the US?

        If so, on what medical basis would that be true?

  4. Terry Keenan says:

    The early church was persecuted and gathered anyway. Some died for their need to gather. We are in the times the bible has warned us about. My need to be a fisher of men will not be thwarted by a corrupt government. I need not even explain corrupt. Dashing of the child in the womb. And so on. Seems as though the son’s of Anik are in charge right now. Until Christians grow a set we will always be the victim.

  5. Elaine says:

    It is truly amazing that while social distancing is honoured in church, with the wearing of masks, they want to arrest those who want to attend church. Evil is so threatened by Christians because, as Christians, we have the Holy Spirit with us, which is more powerful than their money, power, and position.
    It wouldn’t surprise me that non-christian synagogues are open for prayer gatherings. Again, Christianity is so strong that they have to take from us and build on the evil. Fear/Worry ends where Faith begins.

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