Five churches in Manitoba are seeking justice for what they call “unjustly” applied pandemic closures. These churches, represented by the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, have filed an application with the Supreme Court of Canada, challenging the constitutionality of the church closures and restrictions on outdoor gatherings. The churches argue that while they were forced to close their doors, other businesses and activities with economic interests were allowed to remain open.
The Justice Centre believes that the issues surrounding the closure of churches and restrictions on outdoor protests during a pandemic should be addressed by the Supreme Court. They argue that Canadians deserve clarity on whether the Charter’s protections can be easily disregarded during a crisis, while non-Charter-protected activities continue to operate.
The Manitoba government ordered churches to close in-person religious services in late 2020, while other businesses were allowed to operate. They also imposed limits on outdoor gatherings, limiting them to just five people. These restrictions were not equally applied, as large retailers continued to operate without similar limitations.
The Justice Centre alleges that the constitutionality of these church closures and outdoor gathering restrictions is of national importance, even though an appeal was dismissed by the Manitoba Court of Appeal in June. The plaintiffs argue that the province violated their Charter rights to worship, express themselves, and assemble.
A previous ruling in May 2021 by the Manitoba Court of King’s Bench favored the province. Chief Justice Glenn Joyal stated that the infringement of Charter rights was justified under section one of the Charter. However, he did not order the churches to pay the government’s court costs due to the public interest nature of the case.
It is worth noting that during this legal battle, the Justice Centre’s president, John Carpay, faced repercussions for his actions. Carpay hired a private investigator to follow Chief Justice Joyal while he presided over the case. As a result, Carpay temporarily stepped down from the firm and faced a ban from practicing law in the province, along with a $5,000 fine that he paid.
The outcome of this Supreme Court application will have significant implications for religious freedom and the balance between public health measures and individual rights. Canadians will be watching closely to see how the highest court in the land decides on these contentious issues.