The Supreme Court of Canada has refused to hear an appeal from three British Columbia churches that argued their constitutional rights were violated when provincial restrictions banned indoor religious services at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The case stems from orders issued by provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry during the second wave of the pandemic more than two years ago.
The orders prohibited or regulated specific gatherings and activities, including in-person religious worship, which Riverside Calvary Chapel in Langley, Immanuel Covenant Reformed Church in Abbotsford and the Free Reformed Church of Chilliwack argued were violations of several sections of the Charter.
BC Supreme Court Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson ruled in April 2021 that the regulations violated the section of the Charter guaranteeing freedom of expression and freedom of religion.
But in a ruling supported by the BC Court of Appeal, Hinkson also found that given the threat posed by COVID-19, a temporary ban on in-person religious worship was a reasonable balance of other Charter rights and he ruled Henry acted reasonably, given the information available to her.
The high court decision upholds the B.C. court rulings and, as with all Supreme Court of Canada decisions in appeal applications, reasons have not been provided.
Henry said at an unrelated briefing on Thursday that she was “very pleased” with the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision.
“I’m just really thankful that the courts are taking this on and that we’re … still learning from what we’ve been through for the last 3 1/2 years,” she said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 10, 2023.