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Canadian pastor jailed for disobeying COVID-19 lockdown rules says inmates strongly support him

James Coates
Pastor James Coates of GraceLife Church in Edmonton, Alberta, speaks to the Canadian news outlet Rebel News on March 29, 2021. |

A Canadian pastor who was jailed for holding worship services that violated provincial lockdown rules recounted his recent experiences and the support he received from inmates. 

Pastor James Coates of GraceLife Church in Edmonton, Alberta, turned himself in to authorities in February for violating ongoing lockdown restrictions that, among other things, limited in-person worship gatherings to no more than 15% capacity.

He was released in March, with his next court date being on May 3. Coates is accused of violating the Alberta Public Health Act limits many in-person gatherings in response to COVID-19. 

Rebel News, an Ontario-based news outlet, talked with Coates about his experiences, with the interview being posted to YouTube on Monday.

Coates recounted his experiences being locked up, noting that initially he was put in quarantine, which allowed him to get out only twice a day for 15 minutes.

“I can remember one day … I had been in my cell for 23 hours between exercises,” said Coats. “When you get out, you’ve got 15 minutes and that’s not a long time.”

“That was a little bit of a challenge, but I was able to get through it and get into a bit of a groove. And initially, you’re just trying to learn the culture that you’re in and there’s a way that things happen and you’re just trying to learn it so you’re up to speed.”

Once out of quarantine, Coates was moved in with a cellmate who he got along with, saying he had “lots of good conversations and discussions” while in jail and the other inmates treated him well.

While in the general population, he was allowed out of his cell multiple times during the day for up to an hour each time, with Coates saying he called his wife a lot during that time.

“I’d have chaplains visit me from time to time. I could play a little bit of basketball in the court outside, which is basically just a cement cube with no roof,” he explained.

Coates then recounted to Rebel News the moment in which he was released, explaining that the inmate population showed their support for him as he was leaving.

“I turned around and I lifted up my hand to wave and the doors of the pod began to shake, as the men in their cells just banged on their doors as a sign of support, love, affection,” he recalled.

“I was with the chaplain actually when that happened and he’s emailed me since then and just shared with me that he’ll never forget that moment, and it was precious to me as well.”

Officials have accused GraceLife of violating public health guidelines on multiple occasions by holding in-person worship services where attendees did not social distance or wear face masks.

Last month, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police charged the church as an entity for holding worship services in February that exceeded the limit of 15% capacity.

“The Church was non-compliant with the Public Health Order in that it was over the allowed capacity. The RCMP members were present for public safety and to support [Alberta Health Services], and did not go inside the church,” said RCMP in a March 10 statement.

“Investigation continues into the church by AHS and supported by the Parkland RCMP. These charges are now before the court and further comments will not be available.”

As part of the effort to help Coates and GraceLife, a GoFundMe page was created by John Klassen to pay for any legal fees the pastor and the church accrue.

“Coates has been a rare and refreshing voice of courage in these [unprecedented] times. He has stood on the word of God faithfully, courageously and uncompromisingly as a man of God when all around him men falter and fail,” read the fundraising page, in part.

“I'm raising money to benefit Pastor James and Gracelife Church of Edmonton, to do good as Galatians 6:10 exhorts us to, and any donation will help make an impact. Thanks in advance for your contribution to this cause.”

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