A person wearing a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 walks past a directional arrow painted on the road, in Vancouver, on Sunday, December 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

A person wearing a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 walks past a directional arrow painted on the road, in Vancouver, on Sunday, December 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Legal group fights B.C. government’s COVID-19 rules on protests and places of worship

The Calgary-based organization says it represents over a dozen individuals and faith communities

A legal advocacy group is challenging the British Columbia government’s COVID-19 restrictions on worship services and public protests, arguing they violate people’s rights and freedoms.

A petition filed by the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms also asks the B.C. Supreme Court to dismiss tickets of up to $2,300 for alleged violations of the public health orders.

The Calgary-based organization says it represents over a dozen individuals and faith communities.

The challenge is based on several sections of the charter, including freedom of conscience and religion, and freedom of peaceful assembly.

British Columbia’s Ministry of Health could not immediately be reached for comment.

The centre says in a news release that while the government allows hundreds to gather in big-box stores, attending worship services has been prohibited despite groups going to extraordinary lengths to comply with the guidelines issued by provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.

It says allowing people to gather is essential for the spiritual and emotional well-being of many who go to churches, synagogues, mosques, temples or other places of worship.

“Affidavits have been filed attesting to the negative effect prohibiting in-person gatherings has had on individuals, including loneliness, depression, anxiety and fear,” the centre’s statement says.

The centre says the petition requires the court to weigh if the B.C. government has struck a legally permissible balance between public health objectives and the rights of Canadians.

“The undemocratic orders of Dr. Bonnie Henry restricting and even outright prohibiting the exercise of citizens’ fundamental freedoms display a disregard of Canada’s constitutional protections,” Marty Moore, a staff lawyer with the centre, says in the release. “This court challenge will require the B.C. government to answer for these divisive and discriminatory orders.”

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