A Chilliwack judge has handed a guilty verdict to a Canadian pastor who was charged with violating COVID-19 protocols at the height of the pandemic.
A report by Agassiz-Harrison Observer bared that Judge Andrea Ormiston said Rev. John Koopman was guilty of defying pandemic protocols when he hosted a church gathering on Dec. 6, 2020.
Details of the Case, Verdict
The news outlet said Judge Ormiston issued the decision on Nov. 8. However, Pastor Koopman has yet to be convicted of the violation since he had expressed his intention to challenge the decision. Koopman is the pastor of Chilliwack Free Reformed Church.
"Given police warnings, I find Pastor Koopman was well aware that worship services were prohibited by the order, and I find that he was in a position in the church to influence others. Pastor Koopman's conscience dictated that he must continue to lead in-person worship services on behalf of the church and encourage others to attend, and in so doing he has violated the order by hosting an event," the report quoted Judge Ormiston saying in her decision.
According to the news outlet, Koopman and his co-accused each faced over 12 violation tickets for alleged pandemic rule infractions committed between December 2020 and January 2021.
Each violation ticket costs $2,300, the report said. It added that at least 24 overall tickets were dropped in May 2022, which amounted to $55,200 in fines.
The other pastors cited for violating COVID-19 restrictions included Pastor James Butler of Free Grace Baptist Church and Pastor Timothy Champ of Valley Heights Community Church.
Koopman's lawyer said they would issue a Charter challenge to Judge Ormiston's ruling based on religious freedom. Ormiston reportedly arrived at her guilty verdict after a four-day hearing in August this year.
Also Read: Pope OKs German Bishop's Resignation Amid Criticism on Handling of Clergy Sex Abuse Cases
Details of the Alleged Violations
The news report disclosed that Koopman and the two other pastors allegedly hosted in-person church gatherings beginning in November 2020. Members of the Chilliwack Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) responded to complaints about in-person church services on Dec. 6 and Dec. 13 of the same year.
At least one RCMP officer attended a gathering by the Free Reformed Church on Dec. 8 and verified that around 39 individuals were present. The said officer disclosed that the congregation members wore face masks and left the church in small groups.
Koopman's case did not consider whether in-person worship occurred because of the RCMP officer's surveillance. It did, however, touch on whether Koopman organized the event, which would mean he violated the Gathering and Events Order enforced at the time the gathering was held.
The report said Judge Ormiston concluded that Koopman did host the event, which contradicted his version of the incident.
Paul Jeffe, Koopman's lawyer, argued that Chilliwack "discriminated against houses of worship" through the COVID-19 health orders.
Jeffe works for Alberta's Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF). The organization reportedly defends Canadians' Constitutional Freedoms, their website said.
Related Article: Nova Scotia Court OKs $10M Settlement With Roman Catholic Church Over Clergy Sex Abuse Class-action Suit