“Our concern is that maybe this is just a small preview about what myself and other pastors will face in this country, as we continue to experience … a change in the view of the world that is leaving behind our Christian heritage and roots, and really a view of the world now that sees Christian morality and ethics as hostile, as dangerous,” Stephens told The Epoch Times.
Stephens is the third Alberta pastor who has been arrested for defying the Alberta Health Service’s (AHS) public health orders over the past few months.
Stephens was arrested after giving a Sunday sermon at the Fairview Baptist Church in Calgary on May 16 and was jailed for three days. About a week earlier, Calgary Pastor Artur Pawlowski and his brother, David Pawlowski, were arrested after holding a church service, and pastor James Coates of Edmonton’s GraceLife Church was detained in February.
The AHS dropped its Contempt of Court Application against Stephens, meaning he will not be going to a hearing as previously scheduled in June, the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, the non-profit legal organization representing Stephens, said on May 28.
Stephens said that by imposing quarantine and lockdown measures, the government is taking away people’s ability to make decisions for themselves amid the pandemic, and that this is hurting the most vulnerable Canadians.
“Your freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, freedom of movement to go from one place to the next—the government is explicitly removing those things,” he said.
“We’re seeing people languish and suffer under [the restrictions], because as a church we deal with people who are vulnerable, people who are struggling with addictions, and people who are low-income, poor. These are the people who are most hurt by these lockdowns and restrictions, not the politicians and doctors who are making those decisions.”
On May 6, the AHS obtained a court order in relation to Whistle Stop Cafe, a restaurant in the hamlet of Mirror that had opened against provincial orders. The order allowed police to arrest individuals for “organizing an in-person gathering, including requesting, inciting or inviting others to attend an ‘Illegal Public Gathering,’” which is defined as one that does not comply with masking, physical distancing, and limited gathering requirements ordered by the chief medical officer of health.
Stephens was arrested under the same order. However, the Justice Centre was able to have the charges against the pastor dropped because the AHS hadn’t served him with the court order he was accused of having violated.
Separately, the Justice Centre successfully had the AHS’s May 6 order amended on May 13, making it applicable only to the entities listed in the order rather than to all Albertans.
Stephens described the COVID-19 measures—including travel limitations, lockdowns, and quarantine—as a form of “soft totalitarianism,” which goes against Canadians’ Charter rights as well as Biblical teachings.
“They, in essence, see themselves as governors of every aspect of people’s lives, including in your home, who can go in your home or not, or how many can gather together for church or outside or indoors. It’s really quite astounding that they think they have the duty or responsibility to do this,” he said.
Moving forward, Stephens said his church will continue to provide services to the community.