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Canada arrests a third pastor, while the persecuted GraceLife Church continues to meet secretly

Standing for Freedom Center Staff /



The struggle between the Canadian government and Christian churches continues as yet another pastor was arrested in Alberta on Sunday.


Quick Facts



A few years ago, most would not believe that pastors in Canada could be arrested for holding worship services, but in the age of COVID, it has become a harrowing reality. The arrests are growing more common as Stephens is now the third pastor to be arrested and jailed.


Stephens was arrested for organizing a church service that “did not comply with public health orders, including masking, physical distancing, and attendance limits.”


He and his church had been under surveillance after refusing to cease holding services.


On May 5, Stephens penned a blog post countering common objections to the Church continuing to hold services during a pandemic and explained why his church remained open. On May 9, he preached a sermon asserting the authority of Christ over the government, explaining:


“The civil government are not rulers over the Church. The Bible does not give in Romans 13 or 1 Peter 2 the civil magistrate authority over the Church. The Church is Christ’s Body, Christ’s bride. [Civil authorities] are to wield the sword in matters of justice, not in matters of regulating worship or how we gather together to worship Christ. The government is forbidding us from doing these things the way that God has set down for us to do them. And so we must obey God rather than man.”


Stephens is being represented by the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF). The JCCF asserted that the pastor was arrested under the May 6 injunction, which was aimed at the owner of a local café and holds no authority over Stephens.


“The May 6 injunction does not apply to Pastor Stephens nor did it apply to him at the time of his arrest. His arrest and current detention are illegal,” said JCCF President John Carpay. “Alberta Health Services knows that the May 6 injunction, which originally applied to all Albertans having notice of this injunction, was amended by Associate Chief Justice Rooke on May 13. Since then, this injunction has applied only to Whistle Stop Café and certain named or affiliated individuals.”


The JCCF said that Stephens was held until he gave “consent to the violation of his Charter rights and freedoms by Alberta’s public health orders.”


Meanwhile the first pastor to be arrested and released, James Coates, continues to pastor GraceLife Church in secret. The church was shuttered and locked by police after continually violating COVID restrictions. Now, Coates and the congregation meet in secret locations, posting videos of their services online.


In the first such service, Coates said, “They can take our facility, but we’ll just find another one.”


Kerry Williamson, a spokeswoman for Alberta Health Services, responded to the news of Coates’ continuing to hold underground services by saying, “AHS Environmental Public Health can only investigate if we have an address or location. We currently do not have that.”


The government enforced restrictions on GraceLife Church without being required to submit scientific evidence justifying their actions. Carpay said, “After 13 months of violating Charter freedoms, the Alberta government refuses to present evidence in support of lockdowns in court, and unfortunately the courts have permitted the government to delay facing accountability in regard to Charter violations.”


He continued,


“The Alberta government supposedly has enough medical and scientific evidence to shut down hundreds of small businesses, pushing many of them into bankruptcy, and to cancel over 20,000 medically necessary surgeries, and to force Albertans into a third lockdown. But when asked to produce this medical and scientific evidence at trial, the Alberta government declares itself incapable of doing so.”



The government has leveraged the fear of COVID to turn Canada, once a bastion of rugged independence, into a police state. Over a year into the lockdowns and Canadian officials and public health authorities show no signs of easing restrictions. Canadians are left to wonder if the government will ever allow life to return to normal.


If governments are left unchecked, they will always reach for more power and will never willingly give it back. Whether their intentions are nefarious or they believe that they can create a safer, better society by eliminating choice and freedom, the government will too often choose to horde power, exercising near total control over the populace and eliminating or harshly restricting their freedoms.


America’s Founding Fathers knew of man’s natural tendency to grab power, which is why they wrote a Constitution designed to protect the God-given rights of American citizens. As brilliant as the Constitution is, however, it is still only a document, and its protections are only valid if they are backed up by the will and power of the people.


At a time when religious liberty, free speech, due process, the right to bear arms, and states’ rights are under sustained attack, American citizens must diligently stand firm in opposing such tyranny, by speaking truth, boldly exercising our rights, and demanding that our voices are heard in the political process and at the ballot box. If Americans fail to choose freedom over safety, comfort, or expediency, this country will also — sooner or later — go the same subjugated way as has its once ruggedly independent neighbor to the north.