Charges have been dropped against several Canadian pastors accused of violating public health orders by holding religious services during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A judge recently dismissed contempt charges against Pastor Phillip James Hutchings and his associates at His Tabernacle Family Church in Saint John, New Brunswick.
Prosecutors also dropped the charges against Pastor Aaron Rock of Harvest Bible Church in Windsor, Ontario last week.
Chief Justice Tracey DeWare of the Court of King’s Bench denied a motion to hold Hutchings and church manager Cody Butler in contempt for holding church services in a commercial tent in the fall of 2021 when indoor gatherings were banned in New Brunswick, according to a Feb. 2 ruling.
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The church erected the tent in response to the fine in October 2021 for holding rallies indoors, according to the ruling.
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Prosecutors had argued that the tent, whose flaps were lowered during cold weather, was an “indoor public space” and that the pastors did not sufficiently ensure that every worshiper was vaccinated.
DeWare said he could not determine beyond a reasonable doubt that the tent Hutchings Church was using for services “clearly and unequivocally” constituted an indoor gathering as defined by the provincial health order in effect at the time.
“Clearly a commercial tent with four sidewalls up cannot be considered an ‘enclosed space’ or ‘indoor public space’ on any interpretation given to the definition,” wrote DeWare. “Probably, the commercial tent with four sidewalls down could fall within the parameters of an ‘enclosed space.'”
“However, as I write this decision, it is not clear to me when this occurs and the applicant’s lawyer has not been able to provide a clear answer to the question.”
“[An] An alternative and reasonable view may be that the defendants moved their church services to the commercial marquee in an attempt to avoid restrictions on “indoor public space” and thus avoid violating the mandatory order,” DeWare ruled.
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Defense attorney Jonathan Martin described the ruling as “a victory for due process and also a victory for government accountability over the drafting of vague regulations that provide unlimited prosecution discretion,” according to The Canadian Press.
On Monday, Crown prosecutors also dropped two charges against Rock, who was the first pastor charged with violating Ontario’s lockdown order by holding services that exceeded the 10-person limit, according to The Windsor Star.
“I was kind of surprised, pleasantly surprised,” Rock said at the outlet of the dropped charges, each of which carried up to a year in prison and a six-figure fine. “I’ve never been a guy in trouble with the law, it was kind of surreal.”
Rock said he is not against the vaccine or public health restrictions, but believes COVID-19 has been “wildly exaggerated” and the government’s response “silly and very destructive”.
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The legal victories for the pastors come after similar charges were dropped against other Canadian clergy.
Pastor Tim Stephens was acquitted in November after being arrested twice in 2021 because his Calgary church continued to meet in defiance of the government. His second arrest came after a police helicopter reportedly found his church meeting outside.
Pastor Artur Pawlowski of the Cave of Adullam congregation in Calgary, Alberta, recently explained to Fox News Digital that he faces up to a decade in prison if convicted on charges of officiating a church service for truckers who blocked the state border. United States and Canada in Coutts last year.
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After a two-day trial earlier this month, the judge presiding over Pawlowski’s case is expected to rule in March.