Faced with the most severe, long-lasting violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Canadian history, some Canadians have drawn their line in the sand.
Since the founding of our country in 1867, no government has prevented Canadians from associating freely with each other, earning a livelihood, enjoying Christmas dinner with family, or playing team sports. No government in Canadian history has shut down the tourism, hospitality and entertainment industries, recklessly throwing millions of people into unemployment and poverty. Not since the Second World War has the federal government restricted the freedom of Canadians to enter and leave their own country, nor have provinces imposed bans on inter-provincial travel.
Older Canadians will remember the War Measures Act being implemented from mid-October 1970 to the end of April 1971. This was in response to the separatist and violent Front de Libération du Québec (FLQ), a revolutionary organization promoting an independent and socialist Quebec, which had kidnapped British Trade Commissioner James Cross and Quebec Labour Minister Pierre Laporte, later murdering the latter. In response, armed forces were sent into Quebec to aid the police, and the civil liberties of all Canadians were temporarily suspended. Police across Canada enjoyed sweeping powers to arrest without warrant and detain without charge anyone they perceived to have a connection with the FLQ.
In the initial weeks, 497 people were arrested. Of those, 435 were released, 62 were charged, and 32 were detained without bail. By the end of December 1970, army troops were withdrawn from Quebec. FLQ terrorists had by then been arrested, with five of them receiving safe passage to Cuba as part of the negotiated release of their hostage James Cross. In the spring of 1971, the Quebec government announced that it would pay up to $30,000 in compensation (about $194,000 in 2021 dollars) to roughly 100 people who were unjustly detained.
Debate will no doubt continue on the question of whether the use of the War Measures Act in 1970 was truly warranted, or the wisest course of action. Even then, an intrepid journalist recognized its threat to a free and democratic society and, in a refreshingly frank exchange, pressed Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau on whether the cost of infringing Canadians' civil liberties to protect diplomats and politicians from kidnapping was worth it. But even during the intense drama and tension of the first two months of the October Crisis, most Canadians could freely continue to work, socialize, and attend schools, universities and houses of worship.
The War Measures Act was also invoked during World War II, resulting in numerous searches, arrests, and detention without the benefit of charge or trial. We must never forget the injustices perpetrated against hundreds of Italian-Canadians and over 20,000 Japanese-Canadians, who were interned in camps for several years, not based on any crime or even proof of sympathy with enemy powers, but purely on account of their ethnicity. There are lessons to be learned, one of them being that fear leads to injustice. Fear generates public support for restricting citizens' fundamental freedoms and human dignity, and leads to blatant violations of civil liberties.
Today, in the face of fear driving the most extreme restrictions on freedom in Canadian history, Pastor Jacob Reaume has drawn his line in the sand. Having witnessed the negative impacts from harsh Ontario government lockdowns, he announced on his website on December 3 that, if the region around Waterloo went into lockdown again, Trinity Bible Chapel would remain open, and that it was essential to do so—spiritually, psychologically, biblically and legally.
Since lockdowns were imposed in March of 2020, the Ford government (like other governments across the country) has failed to provide evidence that lockdown benefits (if any) outweigh the harms, despite repeated requests from the Justice Centre and even in response to a recent challenge from within Premier Ford's own party.
Lockdowns are based on the unfounded assumption that asymptomatic people are dangerous spreaders of COVID-19. A meta-analysis of 54 studies from around the world found that within households (where social distancing and other safeguards are practiced less than in restaurants and businesses) symptomatic patients passed on the disease to household members in 18 percent of instances, while asymptomatic patients passed on the disease to household members in 0.7 percent of instances.
Government data and statistics continue to show that advanced age is the leading risk factor for death from COVID-19, particularly where there are several serious co-morbidities. More people over the age of 90 have died in Ontario than all those under the age of 80 combined. For the vast majority of the population, COVID-19 is not a deadly threat. This is especially so for children, who are statistically at greater risk of dying from the annual flu than from COVID-19.
Despite knowing who is most at risk, government measures to protect those in long-term care have been extremely inadequate. Instead, governments have focused on locking down the rest of society, resulting in economic destruction, despair and even suicides from this unprecedented experiment on the populace.
There has been mounting evidence of these lockdown harms, and increasing numbers of health professionals are raising concerns, despite risks to their careers. Ontario's former Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Richard Schabas, who served as chief of staff at York Central hospital during the 2003 SARS crisis, has also recently spoken out against lockdowns saying, "Lockdown was never part of our planned pandemic response nor is it supported by strong science. Two recent studies on the effectiveness of lockdown show that it has, at most, a small COVID mortality benefit compared to more moderate measures. Both studies warned about the excessive cost of lockdowns."
The mainstream media has been largely silent on this issue, but has been quite interested in reporting on every move of Pastor Reaume, who has been publicly vilified and has even faced threats of violence.
The Pastor has been undeterred. True to his word, the Church held a service on December 27, and again on January 3, 2021, which police attended in the parking lot to monitor. All six of Trinity Bible Chapel's elders and pastors have been served with summonses to appear in provincial offences court for each service they held. Each charge carries the risk of a $100,000 fine and a year in jail. For the church, the risk is $10 million per charge.
To further impose pressure on the Church, government lawyers escalated enforcement measures by seeking a court order mandating that Trinity and its leadership abide by the regulations, which limit gatherings for religious services to just ten people. They first gave a warning, and extracted an undertaking from the Church not to meet, but Pastor Reaume would only do so for the balance of Doug Ford's four-week hard lockdown, with the intention to open on January 24 when the lockdown was finished.
As has been the pattern, the government's goalposts moved before they were even reached. On January 12, 2021, the Ford government issued another "state of emergency," forcing Ontarians to abide by a "stay-at-home" order prohibiting all activity unless expressly permitted, which has now been extended until February 9.
The government demanded a further undertaking from the Church to continue to avoid meeting in person, but Pastor Reaume and his men refused to sign. Government lawyers then served a nearly 300-page court application on Justice Centre lawyers, and the following day a court order mandating compliance was obtained. Immediately thereafter, Pastor Reaume defiantly announced on his website that the Church would be open on Sunday January 24, as planned, and all were welcome to attend.
More charges followed, and an emergency motion for contempt of the court order was served. On Wednesday January 27, the court found Trinity in contempt, but the sentencing portion has been adjourned until mid-February. In court, the elders, with conflicted consciences, expressed a willingness through their lawyer to not hold in-person services at Trinity Bible Chapel until February 9, the end of the current state-of-emergency. This was a decision made against their sincerely-held religious beliefs, but was necessary to avoid the possibility of their church doors being locked for all purposes, including operation of a private Christian school which is located onsite, one of the things that the Crown was seeking in its motion for contempt.
All of this pressure is being brought to bear by the state on a single church, to prevent its members from worshiping together in person as Christians have done for over 2,000 years. Yet the Ford government has not yet had to prove in a court of law that its extraordinary, indefinite restrictions on the Charter-guaranteed rights of Ontarians are themselves legal, demonstrably justified and in accordance with the constitution—the supreme law that governs those who govern us. They may finally be forced to do so in this court application. The Order permits the Church to bring a motion to discharge it within 30 days, and the Justice Centre has announced that it will challenge the constitutionality of the gatherings restrictions by filing a Notice of Constitutional Question in those proceedings.
Trinity Bible Chapel will continue fighting for religious freedom and the fundamental Charter right to assemble for worship as the matter proceeds through the court. Like the intrepid journalist in October 1970, Pastor Reaume has asked, "Safety, at what cost?"
Lawyer John Carpay is president of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF.ca) and staff lawyer Lisa Bildy represents Trinity Bible Chapel in court proceedings.
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