The BCCLA and CCLA have jointly written to the BC government with respect to provincial orders respecting religious services that are currently in place in British Columbia.
The current Provincial Health Officer order imposes restrictions across the province on certain “social gatherings and events”. Religious in-person gatherings and worship services have been suspended under the order and only drive-in, virtual or remote religious services are permitted. This stands in contrast to the rules that are in place for a variety of other venues, including schools and workplaces, restaurants, pubs and bars, and retail establishments.
For many, worshipping as part of a community is essential to their mental and spiritual health and well-being. Although some may be able to achieve the same sense of community from a virtual service, this may not be feasible from some individuals, particularly the elderly, those who are low-income, recent immigrants and refugees, or those who may have limited access to the internet. Importantly, the provincial order recognizes that certain in-person gatherings may continue, including meetings of Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous. This presumably reflects the fact that these gatherings perform a vital function for those in attendance. We would argue this rationale applies equally to in-person worship, particularly during times of the year with heightened religious significance, and when other restrictions in place mean that many will not be able to rely on time with friends and family for support.
While restrictions across the country vary (and change regularly), many provinces continue to allow some in-person religious services to take place, including Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario. Moreover, freedom of religion is a constitutionally protected right, under section 2(a) of the Charter, such that restrictions placed upon its exercise must be reasonable and demonstrably justified. On its face, the current B.C. order does not appear to meet these criteria. We are strongly encouraging the provincial government to reconsider the current order and allow in-person worship to take place in accordance with the necessary and appropriate health and safety safeguards.
Read our letter in full here.