Officers with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police came out en masse Sunday as protesters descended on GraceLife Church in Alberta, Canada, where police barricaded the worship center last week, barring congregants’ access to the church.
In a statement issued to the media Sunday, the RCMP said it was on the scene in Edmonton to preserve “peace” and “maintain public safety,” claiming — as it has been barring the free exercise of religion — that it recognizes “everyone has a right to peaceful freedom of expression.”
One video circulating on social media showed what appeared to be a great deal of RCMP officers at GraceLife on Sunday.
200 cops for a church!!!! pic.twitter.com/Go0pqbpiRa
— Real Canuck News (@RealCanuckNews) April 11, 2021
California-based Pastor John MacArthur commended the members of GraceLife as they have begun meeting privately amid a continued government crackdown on their freedom to hold worship services.
In an email to Faithwire Monday morning, GraceLife Associate Pastor Jake Spenst confirmed the church is meeting at an undisclosed location and broadcasting its services on YouTube.
“Amazing to have an underground church in Canada,” said MacArthur, pastor of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley. “This because the government of Alberta triple-fenced the church in and locked it so people couldn’t get there.”
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The American preacher said there is now “a massive outcry” of support for the Canadian church as it continues to face intense restrictions.
A church in Edmonton, Canada wouldn’t obey politicians and lock its doors. So they jailed the pastor for 35 days. The church still wouldn’t close. So police raided it, turned it into an armed garrison & occupied it. And still the Christians come. pic.twitter.com/yNZRUXXudl
— Ezra Levant (@ezralevant) April 11, 2021
The RCMP — at the behest of Alberta Health Services — erected the three-layer fence around the Edmonton church’s building last Wednesday and, on Sunday, locals disturbed by the raid and subsequent closure tore down the chain-link barrier as they protested the government and police.
Somewhere between 300 and 400 demonstrators reportedly showed up at the church’s facility Sunday and began singing Christian hymns.
The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, the law firm representing GraceLife and its formerly jailed pastor, James Coates, said in a statement that, while they appreciate “the public outpouring of support to fully open churches in Alberta,” GraceLife congregants did not participate in the demonstration outside the facility.
“GraceLife Church has no control of our church or grounds at this time,” read the statement. “The church grounds are fully under the responsibility and control of the RCMP and Alberta Health Services. The closing of the GraceLife facility has understandably resulted in significant public outrage and caused even larger crowds to gather in one place.”
“Albertans have a constitutional right to assemble, associate, and worship,” it continued. “By taking the measures the government has, while the matter is still pending before the courts, the Alberta government has created an even more divisive situation.”
Citing those statistics, MacArthur said the Albertan government has “no legitimate reason” to forcibly shutter GraceLife for continuing to hold worship services in defiance of an Alberta Health Services order mandating the church limit its attendance to just 15% of its facility’s total occupancy.
“This is a first for the Western world,” MacArthur said, “to have the government lockout believers from a church.”
As protesters began tearing down the fencing around GraceLife, which was allegedly first approved by Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro, RCMP officers starting putting the barrier back up, according to a report from Western Standard. The outlet noted that “dozens of RCMP cruisers” blocked access to the roads leading to the GraceLife worship center.
Shandro, it should be noted, has denied approving the barricade.
Ahead of his sermon Sunday, MacArthur read a letter from Coates, a graduate of the seminary affiliated with Grace Community Church, thanking the California congregation for its steadfast support of him and GraceLife.
The provincial government has dropped most of its charges against Coates, who was released from jail in late March after spending a little more than a month behind bars. The pastor does, however, still face a fine of $1,500 and a charge for violating health orders on capacity limits.
His trial is scheduled to begin May 3, but government officials are attempting to delay the court hearings.
John Carpay of the Justice Centre is arguing there is no reason for a delay because the government has known “for many months” that it would be called to make the case in court for its burdensome lockdowns and COVID-19 restrictions. In a statement issued last week, Carpay said the government has had more than a year “to assemble proper medical and scientific evidence to justify lockdowns” and does not need more time.
He went on to rebuke the restrictions as “unconscionable and completely undemocratic.”
“Why is the government afraid of tough questions?” Carpay asked. “And why, in our 13th month of lockdowns, with three months’ notice of the trial set for May 3, does the government require until July 2021 to assemble medical and scientific evidence?”