A Canadian pastor, who was arrested twice in 2021 for defying the Canadian government's harsh public health restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic, was acquitted of all charges Tuesday.
The Provincial Court of Alberta exonerated Pastor Tim Stephens of the Fairview Baptist Church in Calgary of all public health-related charges regarding social distancing, according to the nonprofit law firm Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF) whose attorneys represented Stephens.
"We are pleased that the Court has acquitted Pastor Stephens on the charges of not complying with a public health order," the JCCF said in a press release. "Pastor Stephens was illegally arrested and imprisoned for having allegedly violated the Public Health Orders, which have since been shown to be ineffective and harmful. This decision sets the record straight about the justifiability of his actions and about the importance of respecting Charter rights and freedoms."
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is a part of Canada's Constitution and is the highest law in the North American country.
Police Used Helicopter to Hunt Stephens, Locate Outdoor Church Services
Even though he was arrested twice for allegedly violating Alberta's public health orders, it was Stephens' second arrest that gained the most notoriety. As CBN News reported in July of 2021, the Fairview Baptist Church pastor was arrested after police used a helicopter to track him like a criminal and discover where he was holding outdoor worship services. They said he was "flouting" pandemic health orders despite only 951 reported COVID cases across all of Canada by that point.
Soon thereafter, law enforcement officers showed up at Stephens' home and arrested him as his onlooking children cried.
He spent 18 days in jail before being released on July 1, 2021. At the time of his release, Alberta's Public Health Orders had been revoked.
"Today is a very thankful day," the pastor had told Rebel News, a conservative outlet based in Canada. "I'm thankful that the restrictions are done and rescinded, including the court orders that go along with that."
In addition to spending a total of 21 days in jail, Stephens also received six provincial violation tickets for his alleged disobedience of the province's public health orders. Four of those citations were previously dropped. Tuesday's court decision also erased the remaining two tickets.
CBN News has contacted Pastor Stephens for comment. We will post it here as soon as we hear back from him.
Alberta's Premier Might Issue Pardons
The news of Stephens's acquittal comes as Danielle Smith, Alberta's new premier, said last week she was looking into issuing pardons to Albertans who received fines or were arrested for breaking COVID-19 public health restrictions.
Smith's administration could follow the move by Ontario Premier Doug Ford who publicly apologized in April of 2021, saying his government's imposed draconian lockdown measures "went too far."
"Simply put, we got it wrong," he said. "We made a mistake. These decisions, they left a lot of people very concerned. In fact, they left a lot of people angry and upset. I know we got it wrong. I know we made a mistake. And for that, I'm sorry and I sincerely apologize."
Canada Targeted Churches, Jailed Multiple Pastors
As CBN News has reported since the beginning of the pandemic, Canadian authorities targeted churches throughout the country, arresting and jailing pastors, levying large fines against congregations, and shuttering houses of worship.
Artur Pawlowski, the pastor of Street Church and the Cave of Adullam in Calgary, Alberta, was arrested five times over the last two years by authorities for holding church worship gatherings despite the mandates. During one incident captured on video in April of 2021, he even forced police officers out of the church building during Easter weekend.
At the time, Pawlowski lambasted the government workers as "Nazi psychopaths" and "sick, evil people" who were "intimidating people in a church during the Passover."
As CBN News reported in October of 2021, Pastor Tobias Tissen of Steinbach, Manitoba, was also arrested for reportedly violating COVID-19 health orders. He spent an extra night in jail after police said he wouldn't be released unless he agreed to stop preaching in church.
Ohio Lawmakers Urged US to Put Canada on Religious Freedom 'Watch List' Earlier This Year
The news of the continued religious persecution in Canada even led lawmakers in the Ohio House of Representatives to introduce a resolution last March calling out Canada for its persecution of pastors during the pandemic.
The six-page resolution mentioned the history of religious freedom that Canada, the United States, and the state of Ohio share, but condemned the actions of Canadian authorities who arrested, fined, and jailed clergy members during COVID crackdowns.
"We, the members of the House of Representatives of the 134th General Assembly of the State of Ohio, have taken note of the abuses of religious liberty that have gone on throughout the Provinces of Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic," the resolution reads.
At the time, the Ohio legislators also urged the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) "to consider adding Canada to the Special Watch List of countries where the government engages in violations of religious freedom."
USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan U.S. federal government agency created by the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA). The agency serves as a watchdog, monitoring the universal right to freedom of religion or belief abroad; makes policy recommendations to the President, Secretary of State, and Congress; and tracks the implementation of these recommendations.
The agency also maintains a watch list of countries of particular concern which are the world's worst offenders of religious freedom.