Despite having to abandon their place of worship after their property war forcibly closed due mainly to Alberta's heightened emphasis on public health enforcement of COVID restrictions, GraceLife church in Edmonton continues to hold their regularly scheduled services.
Nonetheless, the church continues to post video recordings of Pastor James Coates giving sermons in unidentified places each week for the last month.
According to the Edmonton Journal, a video of last Sunday's service shows Coates delivering a nearly hour-long sermon, almost all of which was spent with him preaching in front of a grey backdrop. Participants were not seen on screen, yet audible voices could be heard on several occasions. In previous videos, some members of the congregation could be seen listening to the sermons.
GraceLife representatives did not respond to the Journal's calls for comment. Coates starts his sermon in the first video after Alberta Health Services shuts their building, stating, "They can take our facility, but we'll just find another one."
Kerry Williamson, a spokeswoman for Alberta Health Services, said they were informed of the recordings being shared online, but they are unable to enforce health restrictions for such meetings.
"AHS Environmental Public Health can only investigate if we have an address or location. We currently do not have that," she said.
GraceLife has been an outspoken critic of public health campaigns geared at preventing the spread of COVID-19, questioning their efficacy. Despite earlier limitations restricting worship sessions to 15% of the building's fire code, the church continued to welcome large audiences for Sunday services throughout the beginning of 2021. Such meetings are now limited to no more than 15 individuals due to current constraints.
Coates was jailed for almost a month following the Parkland County church's defiance to COVID restrictions. This was followed by Alberta Health Services closing GraceLife's facility, shackling the doors and erecting fences around it.
Coates recently went to court to contest a December 2020 ticket. Interestingly, the Court did not require the AHS to provide proof that the COVID restrictions they placed against GraceLife were actually based on scientific evidence. This puts the government's actions against the Christian church into question, as to whether it were just an attempt to shut down church worship.
The tapes of the most recent sermons are being uploaded while provincial authorities declare that present limits must be enforced. Premier Jason Kenney said earlier this month that violators of health codes will be penalized $2,000, up from the previous $1,000.
On the same day, Justice Minister Kaycee Madu said that the government will work with law enforcement, Alberta Health Services, Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis, Occupational Health and Safety, and provincial prosecutors to seek out habitual offenders.
"Representatives from these agencies will co-ordinate plans in order to review and address the particular circumstances of each case of non-compliance," Madu warned. "Some cases may require further investigation, and some may trigger enforcement powers such as fines or revoking of licenses."
He said that each agency would continue to work under its own authority but would be allowed to exchange information with one another. Repeat offenders who do not pay their penalties may encounter problems with provincial registration services, such as attempting to renew their license until they have paid their penalties.
According to the Alberta RCMP, three tickets for COVID-19 violations were issued between May 3 and May 9. This weekend, two tickets were issued during an anti-lockdown rally at the Whistle Stop Café in Central Alberta, one on a highway near the venue, one at a party in Grande Prairie, and one to a non-compliant business in Parkland County. The RCMP issued seven similar tickets between April 26 and May 2.