News Apr 12, 2021 12:21 AM EST

Forced closure of GraceLife Church prompts hundreds to protest

The congregation was "physically closed" on Wednesday according to Alberta Health Services for defying the province's COVID-19 orders for months.

Forced closure of GraceLife Church prompts hundreds to protest
Hannah Nightingale Washington DC
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Hundreds of people gathered at the GraceLife Church in Edmonton on Sunday to protest the forced closure of the congregation, CTV reports.

The congregation was "physically closed" on Wednesday according to Alberta Health Services for defying the province's COVID-19 orders for months.

AHS says the congregation would remain closed until it "can demonstrate the ability to comply with Alberta's Chief Medical Officer of Health's restrictions."

GraceLife Church was surrounded by fencing, entry roads blocked off, and reportedly raided early that morning by police.

Video of Sunday's protest show crowds singing and chanting “Only tyrants fear the lord” and “Listen Gestapo, we are a free country.” It escalated into ripping down some of the fencing surrounding the congregation.

The fencing was replaced by other protestors assisting the police, saying "Jesus would not take down the fence."

Police blocked the north entrance and had tow trucks ready to remove cars that block traffic.

One video posted to twitter shows an alleged "200 cops for a church."

One clip shows a woman yelling at the police blocking off the church, "do you agree with this? You're gonna deny my kid the right to go to the bathroom. Shame on you."

According to CTV, an estimated 350 people gathered outside the church in addition to a convoy of self proclaimed "patriots" that drove from Calgary. In a statement released by the RCMP, police said they were working on preserving "peace and public safety."

"The RCMP will use only the level of intervention necessary to ensure the safety of all citizens and to maintain peace, order, and security," the statement reads. "The RCMP uses necessary measures to protect the fundamental freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression, to promote the safety of all citizens, to enforce laws and to maintain peace and order."

"In turn, it must be recognized that while everyone has a right to peaceful freedom of expression; the general public, local residents and businesses also have the right to a safe environment," the statement continued.

GraceLife Church pastor James Coates was charged with violating the Public Health Act by holding church services as normal for more than a year, not following any government restrictions. He was jailed on March 5, and was held for two weeks before being released on March 22 for a crime the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms says is not punishable by prison time. His trial is scheduled to begin on May 3.

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