Supporters rally outside court as Pastor James Coates of GraceLife Church appealed his bail conditions in Edmonton on March 4, 2021. Coates was arrested for holding services officials said were in violation of COVID-19 rules and for violating bail conditions. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

Supporters rally outside court as Pastor James Coates of GraceLife Church appealed his bail conditions in Edmonton on March 4, 2021. Coates was arrested for holding services officials said were in violation of COVID-19 rules and for violating bail conditions. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

‘Shepherd ought to protect his flock:’ Judge fines, releases jailed Alberta pastor

James Coates of GraceLife Church pleaded guilty to a charge of breaching bail and was fined $1,500

An Alberta pastor who was kept in jail for violating a bail condition to comply with COVID-19 health orders was to be freed Monday without conditions.

James Coates of GraceLife Church pleaded guilty to a charge of breaching bail and was fined $1,500.

However, a judge said the 35 days Coates had spent in custody would count as credit for the entire fine.

Coates was charged in Februaryafter officials said the church west of Edmonton had violated public-health measures meant to help contain the spread of COVID-19.

Provincial court Judge Jeffrey Champion agreed to drop all but one charge against Coates. The pastor is to go to trial in May on a count under Alberta’s Public Health Act for holding services that allegedly broke a restriction on the size of gatherings.

Crown prosecutor Peter Mackenzie and defence lawyer Leighton Grey with the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedom, a group representing the pastor, had suggested Coates be fined $100 for breaching the court undertaking.

The judge disagreed.

“I question whether $100 is a proper denunciation of the conduct of Mr. Coates as well as proper deterrence for others that might feel that ‘I can violate the directions of the chief medical officer of health and get $100 fine,’” Champion said.

“It is an issue when someone makes a decision that can affect the health and the lives of thousands of people.”

The judge said that when the pastor was arrested, the spread of COVID-19 was a serious concern and services at the church could have been “super-spreaders” of the novel coronavirus.

“Members of that (church) were going out into the community in general,” said the judge, who noted that Coates has referred to himself as a shepherd.

“The shepherd ought to protect his flock,” Champion said.

“Mr. Coates. you don’t get to make that decision for everyone else, and your decisions could have affected the health and safety of so many of your fellow citizens.”

The pastor, wearing an orange-and-black jumpsuit and taking a mask off his face, told the judge in a video conference that he wasn’t trying to make a statement by not complying with his bail conditions.

“I realized that’s the way society is going to perceive what’s happening here. (But) I’m simply here in obedience to Jesus Christ, and it’s my obedience to Christ that has put me at odds with the law,” said Coates.

“The court is aware that I’m contesting the legitimacy of that law but please, make no mistake … I’m not trying to make a point. I’m not a political revolutionary.”

GraceLife has continued to hold weekend services while Coates has been in jail, including one this past weekend. Alberta Health Services said officials did not monitor the latest gathering.

Two weeks ago, the church itself was charged with violating health measures.

Provincial regulations restrict in-person attendance at churches to 15 per cent capacity and call for congregants to physically distance and wear masks.

Fakiha Baig, The Canadian Press

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

Just Posted

As of Friday, Alberta has under 10,000 active COVID-19 cases. (Image courtesy CDC)
Alberta reports 2,271 new COVID-19 cases, Red Deer cases rise slightly

Across Alberta, there are 666 people in hospital with COVID-19, including 146 in the ICU

Alberta Health Services locked the Whistle Stop Cafe at Mirror on Wednesday morning after owner Christopher Scott refused to comply with health orders.
Photo by Paul Cowley/Advocate staff
AHS shuts down Whistle Stop Cafe for defying health orders

Health inspectors and RCMP locked doors early Wednesday

Premier Jason Kenney (File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)
A vial of Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine is seen at a facility in Milton, Ont., on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. An Alberta woman in her 50s has died from a rare blood clot disorder after receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Carlos Osorio - POOL
Alberta confirms blood clot disorder death linked to AstraZeneca vaccine

Both AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines have been linked to VITT in a very small number of cases

Premier Jason Kenney says with COVID-19 numbers still rising, the province’s health-care system will be tested in the coming weeks. (photography by Winston Pon/Office of the Premier)
‘Please stay home’: Kenney imposes new COVID-19 restrictions

New measures will be in place for at least three weeks

FILE - In this March 3, 2021, file photo, a vial of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine is displayed at South Shore University Hospital in Bay Shore, N.Y. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)
Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccine can be given to adults 30+ who can’t wait for mRNA: NACI

Panel says single shot vaccine can be especially useful for populations unable to return for second shot

B.C.’s provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Dip in COVID-19 cases with 572 newly announced in B.C.

No new deaths have been reported but hospitalized patients are up to 481, with 161 being treated in intensive care

A dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccination is prepared at a mobile clinic for members of First Nations and their partners, in Montreal, Friday, April 30, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine approved for kids 12 to 15 years old in Canada

The vaccine was previously authorized for anyone at least 16 years of age or older

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listens to speakers appearing by video during a news conference in Ottawa on Tuesday May 4, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada will align policy on ‘vaccine passports’ with international allies: Trudeau

Trudeau says Canadians could begin travelling outside the country again by summer

Ranging from 11 to 20 in age and representing seven provinces and one territory, the plaintiffs are appealing a Supreme Court judge’s decision to dismiss their lawsuit last fall. (David Suzuki Foundation)
15 youths not backing down in their fight to sue Ottawa over climate change inaction

The group has filed an appeal after their lawsuit was struck down by a Federal Court judge last fall

A 2021 census questionnaire. (Black Press Media file photo)
2021 census responses due May 11

By law, every household must complete a census questionnaire

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi attends a senior’s home in Calgary on Tuesday, April 14, 2020, amid a worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. Nenshi says he’s frustrated to hear that tickets given to people for breaching COVID-19 public health orders are being thrown out in the courts.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘Incredibly frustrating:’ Calgary mayor wants courts to uphold COVID-19 measures

Large groups without masks have been gathering in Calgary public spaces in protest of health measures

Jose Marchand prepares Pfizer COVID-19 vaccination doses at a mobile clinic for members of First Nations and their partners, in Montreal, Friday, April 30, 2021. The National Advisory Committee on Immunization is coming under fire after contradicting the advice Canadians have been receiving for weeks to take the first vaccine against COVID-19 that they’re offered. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
NACI advice on ‘preferred vaccines’ for COVID-19 sparks confusion, anger

Panel said that people who can wait for an mRNA vaccine should do so

Michael Bonin, 20, from Alberta, was discovered deceased on Peers Creek Forest Service Road north of Hope on April 20, 2017. (Black Press Media)
1 of 3 accused in 2017 murder of Alberta man pleads guilty, sentenced to life in prison

Joshua Fleurant pleaded guilty in a Kelowna courtroom to the second-degree murder of Michael Bonin

Most Read