The week before last the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled on Trinity Bible Chapel’s constitutional challenge. I’ll talk about that in a moment, but first let me offer some background.
Back in 2020 and 2021, the Canadian people got scared because the news said we were facing a death-dealing pandemic. Our provincial government granted Premier Ford emergency powers to rescue us from this once in one hundred years contagion. He promised salvation from the pandemic if we’d just hand him the right to govern Christ’s church and norm Christ’s worship.
Trinity Bible Chapel and her elders refused. The elders of Trinity Bible Chapel believe that we are “God’s steward(s)” (Titus 1:7) of God’s church. A steward is “a person appointed by…a landowner to administer his estates and oversee his workers, representing the master and having full powers granted by him, and answerable (only) to the master for his conduct of the property.”1 Christ owns the church. He bought her with His own blood. Until He returns, her elders have custody of her. The elders are to care for her, which includes protecting her from imposters, even if those imposters are offering her salvation from a death-dealing pandemic.
We take that job seriously, and that’s why the police showed up in 2020 and 2021. They showed up to hand out hundreds of thousands of dollars in charges to us. I’m personally facing $1.1 million in fines, and the church is facing tens of millions of dollars in fines, with each elder facing several hundred thousand dollars in fines, all with potential jail time. To date, none of our fines have been dropped, and they all still hang over our heads. Multiple officers – armed officers – visited our homes at night, spied on our parishioners during church services, and chased us down on the road after services. They charged us because we refused to give the Premier authority over Christ’s Bride. We would not hand her over to him. We kept her for Jesus.
We took the Province of Ontario to court, claiming that they violated our rights as free-born Canadians. We’d been taught since we were wee lads that our forebears died in Dieppe and Normandy to purchase our freedom and that we should be proud to live in a free country. We thought the courts might balance things out and correct the legislature’s tyranny. In early 2022, we asked the Superior Court of Ontario to recognize that Ontario had wronged us, and the Court ruled in favour of Ontario. We appealed, and the Ontario Court of Appeal – with a three-judge panel – heard our appeal just before Christmas in 2022. The week before last, the three-judge panel, representing the Ontario Court of Appeal, handed down their decision. Each judge continued to support the Province of Ontario, with not one dissenting opinion. They dismissed our appeal wholesale.
That said, the appellate court did agree with the trial judge in finding that the government violated our religious freedom, noting that “holding multiple services would alter the character of the religious experience itself by interfering with the communal worship of congregants” (paragraph 15), and, “The manner of practice of worship is at the core of religious freedom, and the authority to determine such matters lay with the claimants. Therefore, all the challenged regulations infringed s. 2(a)” (par. 17). The court, thus granting that our Charter rights were violated, deemed the Charter violations justified, but more on that in a bit.
Both courts — the Superior Court and the Ontario Court of Appeals — did acknowledge that our religious freedoms were violated, proving itself much more enlightened than some of Canada’s official Christians (for example, here) who talk about religious freedom but are silent on this most obvious infringement. The court provided a full-throated admission, with no dissent, that the state violated our religious freedom. Yet, the official Christians won’t talk about it.
During the so-called pandemic a lot of the official Christians did talk about the need to submit to the state, as per Romans 13. The state just admitted, in the highest court of Ontario with no dissenting opinion, that our religious freedoms were indeed violated. If the official Christians were consistent in their application of Romans 13, they would at least agree with the courts on this point. Romans 13 demands state submission (their premise, not mine). The state admitted it violated our rights. Therefore, the official Christians should admit that our freedom was violated. They don’t. But, enough about Paul Carter and Stan Fowler.
The official Christians now find themselves in a difficult spot. On one hand they can continue maintaining that the state did not infringe on the church, which is contrary to the state, as found in our recent ruling. That would be inconsistent with the religious leaders’ earlier Erastian stateism, in which they already abdicated their role to the state. On the other hand, they can concede to the state and admit that the state did infringe upon the church. In such a case, they would need to retract their earlier claims that such instances did not violate the church, thus admitting we were right and owning that, yes indeed, we were persecuted for righteousness’ sake. So, either they say the state was wrong or the state was right.
There is a third option for them. They can own that the church was infringed upon, with also maintaining that the infringements were justified. That would be the precise position of the courts in this case: Yes, our rights were violated, and yes it was right to violate our rights. If the official Christians take that position, they would find themselves offering ultimate authority to the state, not to God. It’s a claim that the state can violate the church if the state deems it justifiable. The state does as the state wishes.
It’s a difficult place for the compliant religious leaders: Either: (a) they say the court is wrong to rule that the church was infringed upon, in which place they violate their earlier interpretation of Romans 13; (b) they say the court is right to say the church was infringed upon, in which case they have to admit we were right to resist; or (c) they say governing the church is the states’ prerogative, in which case they say “We have no king but Caesar” (John 19:15).
The problem we face as Canadians is that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms grants the government the right to infringe upon our freedoms, so long as the infringement is justified in a free and democratic society. The courts decide what that means. In our free and democratic society, the highest court in Ontario has ruled that the state was right to infringe on the church during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Most alarming about the findings is the idea of “judicial deference to government decision-making” (par. 20). In their response to COVID-19, “public officials were faced with an unprecedented public health emergency and were required to balance competing considerations including evolving medical and scientific opinion” (par. 20). As the self-declared arbiter of what it perceives as competing rights or considerations, the court granted the legislature deference when it decided to shut down churches in a mass-panic while other establishments were allowed to continue operation. In this case, economic values and ‘social benefits’ could outweigh religious values. Selling weed takes precedent over the worship of Christ. “Ontario was entitled to balance the objective of reducing the risk of COVD-19 transmission in congregate settings with other objectives that did not arise in the context of regulating religious gatherings, such as preserving economic activity and preserving other social benefits which that activity made possible” (par. 118). The superior court even admitted that restrictions “had negative impacts on the psychological wellbeing of church members” to which the appellate court cites (par. 31). Yet, both courts still ruled that “the salutary benefits of these restrictions outweighed the deleterious effects on religious freedom” (par. 34). In other words, all things considered, some things are less important. Less important than economic activity, in this case, is the worship of Jesus Christ and the psychological well-being of our church members. It’s a matter of public record, on file at the courthouse. Who decides what’s most important? The state of course. Because the state gets deference when the people get scared. The state just decided that money is more important than the worship of God and the psychological well-being of His people.
Now, what about all that scientific stuff? Way back in 2021, the media and the medical establishment pummeled us with allegations that we were anti-science. We can see the trial judge’s humorous take on ‘science’ as noted in para 22 and 24 respectively, “Ontario was not required to prove, with direct scientific evidence, that capacity restrictions actually reduced the spread of COVID-19,” and, “The standard is not one of scientific certainty, particularly for a social problem that defies scientific consensus”. In other words, despite the oft repeated mantra “trust the science,” the science was “evolving”, so who needs “scientific certainty”? What really matters is that people were frightened and the government at least did something: “In this case, the COVID-19 pandemic required Ontario to act on an urgent basis, without scientific certainty, on a broad range of public health fronts” (par. 102). So much for science.
The state received deference, because the people were frightened, and it didn’t even need to justify its actions with settled science. Can someone explain how this won’t be applied to our so-called climate change crisis? The precedent is set. Give deference to a government, and the government won’t waste a crisis.
Furthermore, could the same principle not be used to justify the internment camps for Japanese-Canadians during WWII? The people were scared, so the government temporarily infringed upon the rights of Japanese-Canadians. At the time, it seemed right, given that Japan had just bombed our nearest ally and neighbour, the United States. Afterall, the Superior Court noted, “Section 1 should not require governments to predict the future or prevent them from acting on imperfect information. The case can be distinguished from constitutional challenges to legislation that remains in force, where the impugned government action is ongoing” (par. 54). Does this not justify the Reichstag Fire Enabling Act? Look it up and judge for yourself.
We have directed our lawyers to apply to the Supreme Court of Canada for leave to appeal the appellate court’s decision. Please continue to pray for us.
Earlier on in this process, I had more confidence in the courts to resolve this matter. That confidence has waned.
But my confidence in our Saviour hasn’t. History and Scripture tell of ironic twists in plotlines by which He vindicates His people in unlikely manners. He’s the reason we did what we did. Come what may, I don’t regret it. Not the least bit. He is worth it and so much more. I continue to believe He will vindicate us some way. When and how, I do not know. But He will not disappoint.
“For the Lord will vindicate his people and have compassion on his servants, when he sees that their power is gone and there is none remaining, bond or free” (Deuteronomy 32:36).
“Their children shall be as they were of old, and their congregation shall be established before me, and I will punish all who oppress them” (Jeremiah 30:20).