Free Reformed Church is seen as people attend Sunday service, in Chilliwack, B.C., Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021. British Columbia’s top doctor says she is thankful a petition challenging her COVID-19 orders in B.C. Supreme Court has been dismissed. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Free Reformed Church is seen as people attend Sunday service, in Chilliwack, B.C., Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021. British Columbia’s top doctor says she is thankful a petition challenging her COVID-19 orders in B.C. Supreme Court has been dismissed. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

B.C.’s top doctor ‘thankful’ as court ruling upholds public health orders

Dr. Henry says officials working with religious groups to plan gradual return to in-person services

British Columbia’s top doctor says she is thankful a petition challenging her COVID-19 orders in B.C. Supreme Court has been dismissed.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says in a statement on Friday she is thankful for Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson’s “thoughtful decision upholding public health orders in regards to religious gatherings.”

Health officials have regularly engaged with faith leaders throughout the pandemic and they’re working together to develop plans for a safe and gradual return to in-person religious services, she added.

A group of three Fraser Valley churches sought to hold in-person services, which have mostly been banned since November, and filed a petition in January arguing Henry’s orders infringed on their right to religious freedom.

Paul Jaffe, a lawyer with the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, argued in hearings earlier this month the infringements were unjustifiable.

Hinkson agreed the petitioners’ rights were infringed, but found it was justified as Henry’s orders struck a “reasonable and proportionate” balance between their constitutional rights and her statutory power and responsibility to protect people during the pandemic.

“Against the serious risks that are associated with the pandemic, she is obliged to balance a wide variety of competing rights and interests of British Columbians and visitors to our province,” he says in a written ruling.

“Her decision was made in the face of significant uncertainty and required highly specialized medical and scientific expertise.”

Hinkson noted Henry “carefully considered the significant impacts” of her orders on religious freedom, consulting with faith communities and allowing forms of worship such as individual meetings with religious leaders.

“Her orders are limited in duration and constantly revised and reassessed to respond to current scientific evidence and epidemiological conditions.”

Jaffe had told the court the petitioners — which included the Riverside Calvary Chapel in Langley, Immanuel Covenant Reformed Church in Abbotsford and the Free Reformed Church of Chilliwack — adopted safety protocols similar to those approved by Henry in places that remain open.

He says in a statement the Calgary-based legal advocacy group will discuss the decision with its clients, including the prospect of an appeal.

The centre says it’s pleased that Hinkson ruled in favour of an individual petitioner, Alain Beaudoin of Dawson Creek, finding Henry’s orders unjustifiably violated his right to public protest.

Beaudoin had also petitioned the court to quash a $2,300 violation ticket he received after helping to organize a protest last December over what he argued was an abuse of government power through COVID-19 rules.

Hinkson declined to overturn the ticket, agreeing with lawyers for Henry and the province that he should not rule on its validity without access to the factual background that resulted in the ticket being issued.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

This Earth Day, Cowichan Valley residents are being asked to clean up where they are. (File photo)
Cowichan ‘Clean Where You Are’ campaign starts on Earth Day

Take a bag, one glove, long tongs, and go pick up!

City of Duncan considering an average 3.51 per cent tax increase for 2021. (File photo)
Duncan considers average 3.51% tax increase for 2021

Homeowners would see a $43 increase over last year

North Cowichan councillor Kate Marsh. (File photo)
North Cowichan postpones decision on cell tower placement

But cell tower policy may be developed soon

B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson outlines the province’s three-year budget in Victoria, April 20, 2021. (B.C. government video)
B.C. deficit to grow by $19 billion for COVID-19 recovery spending

Pandemic-year deficit $5 billion lower than forecast

B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry speaks at a press conference Monday, April 18. (B.C. Government image)
New COVID-19 cases tick down on the central Island

New cases held to single digits three days in a row

FILE – NDP Leader John Horgan, right, and local candidate Mike Farnworth greet one another with an elbow bump during a campaign stop in Coquitlam, B.C., on Friday, September 25, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. won’t be using random individual road stops to enforce travel rules: Safety Minister

Minister Mike Farnworth says travel checks only being considered at major highway junctions, ferry ports

A man pauses at a coffin after carrying it during a memorial march to remember victims of overdose deaths in Vancouver. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. announces historic half-billion-dollar funding for overdose crisis, mental health

Of it, $152 million will be used to address the opioid crisis and see the creation of 195 new substance use treatment beds

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Children’s backpacks and shoes are seen at a CEFA (Core Education and Fine Arts) Early Learning daycare franchise, in Langley, B.C., on Tuesday May 29, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. budget to expand $10-a-day child care, but misses the mark on ‘truly universal’ system

$111 million will be used to fund 3,750 new $10-a-day spaces though 75 additional ChildCareBC universal prototype sites over the next three years.

Mak Parhar speaks at an anti-mask rally outside the Vancouver Art Gallery on Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020. Parhar was arrested on Nov. 2 and charged with allegedly violating the Quarantine Act after returning from a Flat Earth conference held in Geenville, South Carolina on Oct. 24. (Flat Earth Focker/YouTube.com screenshot)
Judge tosses lawsuit of B.C. COVID-denier who broke quarantine after Flat Earth conference

Mak Parhar accused gov, police of trespass, malfeasance, extortion, terrorism, kidnapping and fraud

Ambulance paramedic in full protective gear works outside Lion’s Gate Hospital, March 23, 2020. Hospitals are seeing record numbers of COVID-19 patients more than a year into the pandemic. (The Canadian Press)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate declines, 849 cases Tuesday

Up to 456 people now in hospital, 148 in intensive care

Christy Clark, who was premier from 2011 to 2017, is the first of several present and past politicians to appear this month before the Cullen Commission, which is investigating the causes and impact of B.C.’s money-laundering problem over the past decade. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)
Christy Clark says she first learned of money-laundering spike in 2015

The former B.C. premier testified Tuesday she was concerned the problem was ‘apparently at an all-time high’

Most Read