Alberta Church, Pastor Guilty of Obstruction for Refusing COVID Health Inspections
June 2022 Charity & NFP Law Update
Published on June 29 2022

By  Jennifer M. Leddy
   
 

You can’t block a public health inspector on duty from entering your church because they give off a “bad vibe.” That’s what Judge S.R. Creagh (the “Judge”) decided in a Provincial Court of Alberta decision, R v Church in the Vine of Edmonton, published May 13, 2022. The Judge found the Church in the Vine of Edmonton (the “Church”) guilty of obstruction after the co-pastor refused to allow a public health inspector (the “Inspector”) to enter and ensure compliance with COVID public health orders. Tracy Fortin (“Ms. Fortin”), wife of the pastor and also a leader for the Church, contravened section 71 of Alberta’s Public Health Act by not letting the Inspector in to investigate complaints that the Church failed to comply with Orders of the Chief Medical Officer (the “Orders”). Because Ms. Fortin committed the offence in the conduct of her duties as a church leader, the Judge found the Church was responsible and also guilty of obstruction.

The Orders required that all places of worship must:

1. Limit the number of individuals at a worship service to 15% of the of the total operational occupant load as determined in accordance with the Alberta Fire Code and the fire authority having jurisdiction,

2. Require all individuals in a building that was a public place to be masked unless exempt, and

3. [Physical distanced] as required.

Ms. Fortin admitted that she refused to allow the inspector to enter on three occasions: March 7, March 14, and June 6, 2021. She testified that she “saw her role to be a protector of the persons in the Church” and “only sincere worshipers were permitted into the Church.” When Ms. Fortin and her team saw someone they didn’t recognize trying to gain entry, they questioned whether the stranger was there to worship. “If so, she would let them in,” the Judge described. “If not, or if she believed the person was there to disturb the worshippers, the person would be denied entry.” Those who did not answer or “gave off a bad vibe” were also not permitted to enter. The Inspector was thrice so denied, because Ms. Fortin considered her presence “disruptive.” Parishioners were also instructed to notify Ms. Fortin if any “authorities” approached the door of the Church.

In their defence, the Church argued that their property is private, and the Orders did not apply because the Church is not a public place. The Judge disagreed, finding that “places of assembly” listed in the definition of a public place in section 1(1)(ii) of the Alberta Health Act includes places of worship, such as churches, synagogues, and mosques. Ms. Fortin was therefore guilty of obstructing an inspector in the course of her duties. As Ms. Fortin was herself conducting duties as a leader of the Church at the time that she committed the offence, “acting within the scope of the area of work assigned to her”, the Church was therefore liable for her actions, the Judge ruled.

   
 

Read the June 2022 Charity & NFP Law Update