Three Chilliwack church pastors facing tens of thousands of dollars in fines for repeatedly violating provincial public health orders are putting up a fight.
Pastors John Koopman, James Butler and Timothy Champ – of Chilliwack Free Reformed Church, Free Grace Baptist Church, and Valley Heights Community Church respectively – face a total of 25 violation tickets for incidents in December and January.
The churches held services despite orders banning in-person church services as far back as November, and it was Dec. 6 and 13 when Chilliwack RCMP members responded to complaints of groups gathering at the three churches.
On Dec. 17, representatives of the churches were handed eight fines of $2,300 each, totalling $18,400, for contravening the provincial gathering and events order.
Butler from Free Grace Baptist Church has a total of 12 violation tickets from those dates as well as Dec. 20 and Dec. 27, 2020, and Jan. 3, Jan. 10, Jan. 17, Jan. 24 and Jan. 31, 2021.
A Langley pastor faces one similar ticket from Jan. 3.
It’s unclear if all 25 tickets came with $2,300 fines, but if so, the total bill is $57,500.
Koopman received six violation tickets for similar dates, and Champ received seven.
All three men are represented by Calgary-based Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF), an organization that say it’s role is “defending the constitutional freedoms of Canadians.”
Butler and Koopman were asked by The Progress if they were fighting the violation tickets, and JCCF lawyer Marty Moore responded on their behalf.
”Notice of Hearings have been issued for some of the tickets issued,” Moore said via email. “Each of those will be challenged in court, including on the basis that they are unjustified violations of the freedoms of religion, expression, peaceful assembly, and association, and the rights to liberty and equality.”
When asked back in November 2020 about holding in-person church services in clear contravention of public health orders, both Butler and Koopman responded.
“The identification of what is and what is not an ‘essential service’ is certainly open for interpretation, but in short, we believe that churches are essential, and that Christians are commanded by God to attend public worship,” Butler said in a statement on Nov. 26.
“Our convictions compel us to worship our God in the public gathering of his people and we must act in accordance with our conscience,” Koopman said in a statement on Nov. 27.
All three men are scheduled in Chilliwack provincial court on June 8 to schedule a hearing for some of the fines issued.
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