How Premier Jason Kenney went from defending conscience rights to jailing pastors

Pastor Coates refuses to recognize Jason Kenney and Deena Hinshaw as having authority to violate Charter freedoms. He is in jail because he insists that there is a limit to the rulers' lawful authority.

John Carpay Calgary AB

On Wednesday February 17, 2021, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney posted on Facebook: "Best wishes to Christians across Alberta and around the world as they begin the penitential season of Lent on this Ash Wednesday."

The day before, pastor James Coates had been locked up in an Alberta prison, for exercising his Charter freedoms of conscience, religion, association, expression and peaceful assembly. Like most people, Pastor Coates and his Grace Life Church near Edmonton were very concerned about the COVID virus back in March of 2020, when Neil Ferguson of Imperial College frightened the whole world with his wildly inaccurate predictions. Governments blindly accepted Professor Ferguson's fearmongering about COVID being an unusually deadly killer that we should all be very afraid of.

Statistics Canada data to mid-October 2020 tell us that, while overall death rates in Canada increased in the first three quarters of 2020, death rates have also been increasing over time as our population ages. Increases in death rates for people over 85 in 2020 are largely comparable to those that have occurred in the last three to four years. We know that COVID threatens primarily seniors in long-term care homes who are already dying of cancer, emphysema, heart disease and other serious illnesses. Death rates among men and women in the 65-84 age group are lower or comparable to previous years. Not what you would expect from an unusually deadly killer, is it?

COVID poses no significant threat to children, youth, young adults and about 90 percent of the population, who have a greater chance of dying in a car accident than dying of COVID. Remarkably, death rates in Canada for those aged 44 and under increased significantly in 2020, especially among men. COVID is not a factor here, so what is leading to these deaths?

Like so many other people in Alberta and around the world, Pastor Coates understands that the violation of our human rights and human dignity by lockdown measures is not based on science. While politicians claim that lockdowns are saving lives, they have not yet put forward persuasive evidence to support that claim.

Accordingly, Pastor Coates and his congregation have continued to hold church services without adhering to unscientific restrictions on their Charter freedoms. These violations of our Charter freedoms to move, travel, associate, assemble and worship have never been voted on or approved by the elected Members of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta. Instead, Charter freedoms are violated by Alberta's Chief Medical Officer Deena Hinshaw, with the full approval of Premier Kenney. So now Pastor Coates is in jail, and not allowed to see any family or other visitors for the first 14 days of his imprisonment.  He is effectively in solitary confinement.

I understand that Premier Kenney did not personally order Pastor Coates to be arrested and imprisoned, and that the Premier cannot personally release the pastor.  But it's because of Jason Kenney's unconstitutional laws that Pastor Coates is in jail today, and for no other reason.

Responding to the public outcry over the jailing of a pastor, Premier Kenney stated: "So I want to be absolutely clear: Alberta's government will always respect and protect the fundamental freedoms of religion and worship, period." Yes, except when pastors are put in jail for refusing to comply with unscientific health orders.

Premier Kenney's response is like Prime Minister Trudeau's response to Canadians now being forcibly locked up in hotels for three days upon returning home: "We are not detaining people; these are public health measures."

Premier Kenney would be wise to recall his October 2014 speech to the Thomas More Lawyers' Guild of Toronto, when he called on assembled lawyers to defend conscience rights as a bulwark against the spirit of the age running roughshod over us:

Pastor Coates refuses to recognize Jason Kenney and Deena Hinshaw as having authority to violate Charter freedoms. He is in jail because he insists that there is a limit to the rulers' lawful authority. To quote Jason Kenney: "Rulers must respect the freedom of the Church, guaranteed by the very nature of the State and the nature of the Church. These ancient principles were recognized in the first article of the Magna Carta, which guaranteed the Church's freedom. The state cannot claim unlimited power over all spheres of common life and thereby limit the liberty, prosperity and peace enjoyed by their citizens."

Jason Kenney went on to say: "History in general—and the history of Thomas More in particular—teaches us that the recognition of the rights of conscience is an essential limitation of State power. Put another way, where the rights of conscience are violated, the prospect of a State that unjustly limits liberty becomes all too real throughout history… We praise Thomas More because his conscience made a reasoned and accurate judgment of the truth of the matter… there is always lurking about a certain spirit of the age that resents the challenge that is posed by the rights of conscience… faced by the modern spirit of King Henry VIII, the entire establishment of England—including religious, political and commercial leaders—accommodated themselves to the King's usurpation of their ancient liberties."

In 2021, the spirit of the age demands that everyone participate actively in a futile quest to stop a virus by imposing evidently harmful restrictions on the entire population—an unscientific approach that has never before been tried in human history. Even if lockdowns could "save lives" (a proposition in support of which Jason Kenney has not put forward any persuasive evidence), according to the government's own data and statistics, this virus has a negligible impact on the life expectancy of Canadians.

Jason Kenney warned: "The spirit of the age can be a powerful juggernaut that is wont to run roughshod over the consciences of those who would resist it. We remember Thomas More because he was strong enough to stand against the spirit of the age. No neck is strong enough to resist the executioner's axe, but a few courageous souls are strong enough to resist the demands of the one who commands the executioner.

"A healthy political culture—the kind with which we have been blessed since Canada's founding—seeks to prevent a conflict between the rights and duties of conscience, and the demands of the sovereign and the sovereign's government… Pope John Paul II, who suffered the occupation of his country by both the Nazi regime and the Red Army, knew well that the State, no matter how configured, must be limited by the truth about the human person and society."

But now Jason Kenney insists that all must bend to the spirit of this age.

Speaking to an audience of lawyers, Jason Kenney stated: "My desire, rather, is to encourage you, stewards of the law, to do your part to defend the rights of conscience of all, in all environments, as the foundation of the liberal democracy that is our blessed inheritance as Canadians." The Justice Centre is taking Jason Kenney's advice from 2014, by representing Pastor Coates and seeking his release from jail.

Lawyer John Carpay is president of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms which represents Pastor James Coates and is now seeking his release from prison.


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