A U.S. senator is asking the Commission on International Religious Freedom to place Canada on its
religious freedoms watch list due to the arrests of Alberta pastors accused of breaking COVID-19 public health restrictions.
Missouri Republican Josh Hawley sent a letter to the chair of the commission asking them to consider adding Canada to the watch list since two Alberta pastors were arrested and jailed for holding worship services. In his letter, Senator Hawley said “One of the most fundamental human rights is the freedom to practice one’s faith. I am writing to express my deep concern that this freedom is in peril across our nation’s northern border. I would expect this sort of religious crackdown in Communist China, not in a prominent Western nation like Canada”.
Pastor Tim Stephens of Fairview Baptist Church in Calgary was arrested twice by police, for organizing a church service violating draconian public health orders and after he allegedly violated a court order and hosted an outdoor church service. Canadian authorities’ arrest of faith leaders and seizure of church property, among other enforcement actions, constitute to very high degree systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedoms.
Pastor James Coates of GraceLife Church, located west of Edmonton was arrested and spent a month in jail at the Edmonton Remand Centre. Senator Hawley named Stephens and Coates in his letter and said there were “numerous” other instances when Canadian pastors were jailed for not complying with -at most-illogical restrictions in place during the pandemic.
The senator compared the enforcement actions taken by law enforcement and Canadian public health authorities to actions officials in China would undertake. The U.S. commission has three requirements to declare that a country oppresses religious freedom. It says the oppression must be systematic, ongoing
and egregious. Any two of those factors is enough to be placed on the special watch list. Countries already on the list include Afghanistan, Egypt, Cuba and Turkey.
If Senator Hawley’s letter receives a positive review, of which frankly it should, Canada will be available on the US watch list for religious violations for the period 2020-2021.