Canadian Pastor Who Challenged COVID Restrictions Released From Prison

By Jackson Elliott
James Coates with his family (Photo Credit: GraceLife Church)

After 35 days in jail for defying COVID-19 restrictions, Canadian GraceLife pastor James Coates was released on Monday.

The court fined Coates $1,500 for disobeying a court order to follow public health regulations, overruling his defense team’s request for a $100 fine. Coates pleaded guilty to the charge and other charges against Coates have been dropped.

Coates’s fine will be counted as paid due to the jail time he already served.

Alberta’s government jailed Coates because he led church services at full capacity without mandatory masks or social distancing in his church in Edmonton. Alberta laws currently allow services at only15% capacity with masks and social distancing.

When he was first jailed, the government offered Coates bail if he agreed to stop services, but Coates said doing so would violate his conscience.

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In a video conference, Coates told provincial judge Jeffrey Champion that he wasn’t trying to make a statement by refusing bail. He didn’t intend to become a “revolutionary” by his actions.

“I realized that’s the way society is going to perceive what’s happening here. [But] I’m simply here in obedience to Jesus Christ, and it’s my obedience to Christ that has put me at odds with the law,” said Coates.

Coates said he believes that God commands Christians to meet together and worship as a community.

Judge Champion reprimanded Coates, telling him that he had failed to protect his congregation from COVID-19.

“The shepherd ought to protect his flock,” Champion said. “Mr. Coates, you don’t get to make that decision for everyone else, and your decisions could have affected the health and safety of so many of your fellow citizens.”

According to GraceLife Church’s website, the church has only had two cases of COVID-19. However, the website claims one member has died because he was unable to access critical health care due to pandemic-related closures.

During his time in jail, Coates received support from religious freedom organizations and churches in Canada and beyond.

A fundraiser for Coates’s legal defense raised over $42,000. Liberty Coalition Canada has also circulated an online petition demanding that churches reopen.

On Facebook, The Master’s Seminary celebrated the release of Coates, who’s a graduate of the school.

“We praise God that James Coates, pastor of Grace Life Church in Alberta, Canada, is going home to his wife and children after spending five weeks in prison for obeying God rather than man,” its post said. “We are grateful that he will soon return to the pulpit and continue proclaiming the truth that Christ, and Christ alone, is the head of the church.”

In May, Coates plans to challenge in court a ticket he received in December for exceeding 15% of his church’s capacity. He will do so on constitutional grounds.

Coates’s challenge will likely be combined with Alberta’s prosecution of his church for holding illegal services, said Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms president John Carpay.

Jackson ElliottJackson Elliott is a Christian journalist trained at Northwestern University. He has worked at The Daily Signal, The Inlander, and The Christian Post, covering topics ranging from D.C. politics to prison ministry. His interests include the Bible, philosophy, theology, Russian literature, and Irish music.




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20 thoughts on “Canadian Pastor Who Challenged COVID Restrictions Released From Prison”

  1. I wish this included the full story- and all the lies his wife has spread throughout the media. This pastor is also supported by very few churches in Canada. Most church leaders here disagree with His beliefs. Especially the fact he has taught his congregation that wearing masks is strange fire towards the Lord.

    1. What does that mean?

      I am glad he is released and back with his family, irregardless of his “stupid virus” beliefs, church beliefs, or association with MacArthur.

      Instead, we have some sarcasm and mocking. Praise God he is released.

      I pray the Church in God listens to Your voice more than fear. Amen.

  2. this line is not correct, “When he was first jailed, the government offered Coates bail if he agreed to stop services” the issue was, would he adhere to the provincial health mandates regarding restrictions (15% max attendance, 6′ distancing, masks)? He refused to obey these restrictions. Far too many are making this about what it is not. Saying he was jailed for preaching the word or persecution because he was preaching the gospel. He and his church were not prohibited from meeting or preaching or worship, just not all together, sitting close to each other, and not wearing masks.

    1. I wonder if this fraud will defy building codes and start having services above the occupancy limits for the building once COVID is over. Or maybe he will remodel the inside of his compound and eliminate pesky things like fire exits and bathrooms, etc. so ensure even more people can be crammed into the building.

      By his argument regarding COVID, since no one has died in this church due to a church fire, he must be OK with ignoring the occupancy limits on the building from the Fire Marshal.

      Wonder if all his defenders will claim he is martyr then should he go this route.

  3. I am waiting for one of JMac’s COVID deniers to show up and to blast us all with shame for the rest of us thinking that what this guy did and is doing is stupid, irrational, rebellious, narcissistic and grandstanding for personal fame and profit. The bottom line is two things:

    1) God is not shy about taking credit for pandemics. You can find many scriptures about God taking credit for releasing them on humans. You will find no scriptures whatsoever that indicate that He has lost control or that they ever happen on their own. Therefor it is logical to note that God is behind this and has released it for a purpose. Understanding that purpose is key for Christians.

    2) While it is likely that God’s purposes are varied, one thing that is clear to me is the issue of empathy. Jesus had compassion and showed empathy for the human condition. The N.T. writers call those who claim to be Christians to do the same. Every time their is a news report here about “Christians” who are bucking the system about COVID precautions I see two camps of people who are at opposite extremes. One calls for empathy for the many people who know someone who has died, or was hospitalized, or works in the health field because the effects of this on humans is real. The other camp only cares about their own freedom to do whatever they want to in regards to their religious practices. They complain that public officials are urging caution and they do not want to take any of this as anything at all. They never express any kind of empathy, nor acknowledge that this is a real problem. Their focus is pure selfishness. Their attitude is the opposite of this:

    “So whatever you say or whatever you do, remember that you will be judged by the law that sets you free. There will be no mercy for those who have not shown mercy to others. But if you have been merciful, God will be merciful when he judges you. What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone?” James 2:12

    The total lack of empathy is the defining characteristic of narcissists. The inability to care what anyone else is going through coupled with the demand that they must be king and that no one should step on that by curtailing any of their freedoms, even to be stupid and maybe harm or kill someone else, is what this looks like. These are characteristics of Satan and Satanism. There is nothing Christian about demanding your freedom to rebel and to show no empathy or kindness to others. So, at the least, I see this pandemic as a test to see whom publicly displays compassion for others and whom is totally incapable of doing so. Can the kind of faith that is devoid of basic empathy save anyone?

    1. I think a lot of it has to do with myopic thinking. Also, predictably, many people become neurotic when the government exercises it’s authority, and they assume some nefarious intentions. I remember when George H Bush was talking about “The New World Order” and folks were ready to head to the hills.

      1. What is even more myopic is that churches and businesses had very much the same restrictions during the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic. A cursory search will show all the various health rules and restrictions enacted. But all the usual COVID conspiracy nuts and Trump leg-humpers on this blog deliberately ignore that

    2. I am going to agree yet disagree here.

      1) True. He permits it for His reasons. The enemy has his plans to use these things to steal, kill and destroy people yet God uses it for the good. I have seen him using this experience to reveal, reset and restore the Church. It’s been hard, yet growth too for those who are willing to go into the uncomfortable growth areas He is leading us into.

      2) Of course there are 2 camps in these comments, re the virus. Yes, Christ has empathy for us—the shortest verse in John is “Jesus wept.”

      And I think He would be dismayed by the lack of empathy between people who have different opinions about these things.

      It’s heartless, really. Rather like smug Pharisees.

      3) Mr. Jesperson if I follow you right, you are asking us to be sensitive and empathetic to one another. Sensitive to the pain of someone who died from the virus, or the hard time it gave them.

      Yet then, you seem to say, if one questions mask wearing, or how a government is applying its regulations, or wisdom or hidden agenda behind such things…they lack empathy?

      Sure, if one acts like a child, “I’m not gonna do it cause I don’t wanna!” that is selfish. But you cannot claim every person who questions what’s going on re this virus is a “narcissist”.

      Those I know who’ve questioned it are legitimately concerned of freedoms being abused, or something about it all smells fishy.

      That doesn’t make themconspiracy theorists—exactly. They may be questioners…willing to question the “truth” as the current mainstream media puts it. And they seem to have their own axe to grind.

      A few things I know, Jesus is the Truth, the antichrist spirit will rise in the last days, and if we’re humble to love others, even where it is uncomfortable or a challenge, then human hearts can receive His Love and change.

      1. You are accusing me of saying things I have not said. I do not think that everything that has happened in the political realm is wise or “right.” I personally think most of it is foolish. Our leaders are narcissists, it is just a fact, so they are grandstanding and doing the same kinds of things that I am seeing with commenters here. I do not trust them and many people are too busy following what their favorite politician is saying. Following what the Spirit is saying is something very different! I did not mention masks, or lockdowns or any of that. I am just focused on what the little people are saying and highlighting one aspect of that. Do they acknowledge a real problem and have they expressed any concern for the fact that others with different opinions then them are suffering?

        Yet, many of the comments are of a political nature and are not looking outside of that divide for answers. This pandemic has affected my own family in that my sister-in-law was in a nursing home and my brother was not able to see his own wife for many weeks. And then it was only through glass for a long time. She is in a high risk group. I acknowledge the need to have understanding for all people, but some are being jerks in my point of view. This is a fact.

        And laying aside narcissism, it is clear that we are not suppose to be selfish or rebellious. Some people are being both and that is a fact. Both Jesus and His Apostles called people out for doing those things in other contexts. Jesus rebuked 5 of the 7 churches in His book of Revelation. He threatened to remove their candlesticks. These churches were real but are no more. In fact, do the research yourself, the towns they were in are no more either. So please do not rebuke me for merely rebuking those who are not publicly showing empathy. It is love to rebuke where it is needed. We are called to judge those in the church but not in an unrighteous way. (1 Cor. 5:12) I am doing my best for that. And your logic is self-defeating for technically you have judged and are rebuking me in the exact same way that you are claiming I have others. If I have sinned in this then you are equally guilty…

  4. The Government is God’s government. Coates went with his biblical convictions and he knows that the government is not serving the God who sovereignly and gracious place them in their position. As stated, a bunch of other ministries do no agree with Pastor Coates stand on the gospel. Majority is a poor substitute and determination for one’s convictions. It is sad that this place is becoming the CNN of truth.

    1. I’m confused. Wasn’t he forsaking the meeting of the brethren by choosing to stay in jail? Or was that not the issue?

        1. Rather presumptuous of you comparing Coates to Peter and Paul. For starters, Peter and Paul were prohibited from preaching the Gospel (i.e., not at all). Has Coates been prohibited from preaching the Gospel? It is a Yes or No question.

          Second, do you understand what the word prohibit means?

          Tell me, is not being allowed to have more people in his building due to fire codes a prohibition and persecution as well? To be consistent and intellectually honest you would have to say yes.

          You can never answer these questions logically or even bother to address them.

          1. Cm I can but logically and more importantly biblically but every time I ask you anything you never respond

  5. The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms petitioned British Columbia Supreme court on behalf of a couple of church in January

    The petition was denied this week.

    The argument was religious freedom (of course) but the court ruled in rejecting the case that Public Health was justified and that the Medical Officer of Health acted reasonably given information available.
    The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms is looking at appealing
    The churches obeyed provincial public health restrictions.

    Along comes Coates, and the JCCF hit the gold mine.
    Their PR dream, a wanna be defiant martyr, a wife playing the sympathy card on carefully selected echo chamber media…

    I think the Alberta judge took some of the wind out of their sails with his ruling.
    Coates has his court date in May for his remaining charge, as does his church.

    Of course the Coates and GraceLife will continue to be defiant while Covid variant cases rise rapidly around them.

    The Edmonton Journal editorial board piece written yesterday is not kind to the Coates, JCCF and GraceLife position, or Alberta Health Services.

    ” AHS must shut scofflaw church.”

    The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms filed a Charter challenge in Ontario which won’t go anywhere either. But, they will probably appeal. Trinity Bible Chapel, headed by a guy who went to The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, was fined around 83 thousand and government court costs for contempt of court.

  6. 1 Corinthians 1:18-19

    18 For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.

    19 For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.

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