Ontario: The British Columbia court has dismissed appeal challenging the legitimacy of orders of provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry restricting in-person services in the churches.

In a unanimous decision released Friday, the province’s top court dismissed the application of the churches and their leaders who sought declarations that the G&E orders amounted to an unconstitutional infringement of their freedom of religion, expression, assembly, association and equality rights because they were unable to gather for in-person religious worship.

“I acknowledge that the orders imposed significant burdens on many members of our community including, for present purposes, the religious appellants. I do not see how it could have been otherwise. The pressing goals underlying the orders could not be attained without limiting gatherings that posed an unacceptable risk to public health,” wrote Justice Gregory Fitch, who penned the ruling on behalf of all three appeal court judges.

He said that in my view, the salutary effects of the PHO’s orders outweighed the harm they caused. They have been shown to be necessary to promote public health, minimally impairing in their effects, and to reflect a proportionate balancing of the competing interests at stake. For the foregoing reasons, I would dismiss the appeal.

In the order, the court observed that the imposition of restrictions on gatherings inevitably imposed limitations on the ability of British Columbians to exercise certain constitutional freedoms, including the freedom to gather and manifest deeply-held religious beliefs. At its heart, this appeal is about whether the orders made by the PHO reflect a proportionate balancing of constitutional rights with the public health and safety objectives that animated them.

Meanwhile, on October 15, 2020, Dr. Theresa Tam, Chief Public Health Officer of Canada, wrote an open letter to faith-based community leaders advising them that “a number of reported outbreaks have been linked to gatherings such as weddings, funerals, and other religious and community gatherings.”

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