Canada arrests another pastor over breach of Covid-19 restrictions

Tim Stephens, the pastor of Fairview Baptist Church in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, speaks during a sermon in June 2020.(YouTube/Fairview Baptist Church)

A third pastor has been arrested in Canada for defying Covid-19 public health orders.

Tim Stephens, the pastor of Fairview Baptist Church in Calgary, Alberta, was arrested on Sunday. 

Police said the arrest was made because of a service that "did not comply with public health orders, including masking, physical distancing and attendance limits," breaching an injunction. 

"The pastor acknowledged the injunction, but chose to move forward with today's service, ignoring requirements for social distancing, mask wearing and reduced capacity limits for attendees," read a joint statement by Calgary Police Service and Alberta Health Services. 

"We continue to ask those who may be considering organizing or participating in any outdoor events to ensure they are familiar with public health order requirements and to do their part to prevent further spread of the virus."

Stephens has publicly criticized Canada's Covid regulations, which currently cap building occupancy at 15 during church services. 

In a blog post earlier this month, Stephens said the cap was "against the will of Christ and against the conscience of many who desire to worship the Lord of glory according to his word." 

He ended the post by saying that the church would continue to gather because it must "stand before Christ rather than bend before consequences." 

Calgary police arrested another pastor earlier this month, Artur Pawlowski, for similar reasons. He was arrested alongside his brother and charged with organizing, promoting and attending an illegal in-person gathering, and inviting others to it. 

His arrest came not long after footage went viral of him ordering police and health officials out of his church during Holy Week services. 

Another Alberta pastor, James Coates, of GraceLife Church, near Edmonton, was arrested in March for health order violations and spent over a month in prison. 

Alberta Health Services fenced off the church but the Edmonton Journal reports that it is still gathering in secret locations.

In the US, the Supreme Court overturned strict caps on church attendance last November.

An executive order issued by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo had limited attendance at 25 in "orange" zones, and at 10 in "red" zones, but it was challenged by Jews and Christians.

The Supreme Court sided with the faith communities, saying that the restrictions "strike at the very heart of the First Amendment's guarantee of religious liberty". 

"Even in a pandemic, the constitution cannot be put away and forgotten," the judgment said.