U.S. senator wants to put Canada on religious freedom watch list over pastor COVID arrests

By: Broderick Visser

Written On: 2021-06-28

U.S. Senator (R.) Josh Hawley has asked that Canada be investigated for violating religious freedom over the arrests of Albertan pastors like James Coats, Tim Stephens and Artur Pawlowski for putting their religious freedoms ahead of government rules.

In a letter released on June 24, Hawley asked his country’s Commission on International Religious Freedom to consider putting Canada on its special watch list.

“One of the most fundamental human rights is the freedom to practice one’s faith according to the dictates of one’s conscience. Last year, I urged the Department of Justice to bring federal lawsuits to uphold the rights of houses of worship burdened by unjust restrictions. Now I am writing to express my deep concern that this freedom is in peril across our nation’s northern border,” he said in the letter.

“Canadian authorities’ arrest of faith leaders and seizure of church property, among other enforcement actions, appear to constitute systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom. I urge the Commission on International Religious Freedom to take whatever action is necessary to address and rectify this situation, and consider adding Canada to the Commission’s Watch List.”

Josh Hawley, Republican Senator for Missouri

The letter specifically mentioned Coates and Stephens and the seizure of GraceLife Church’s property in April.

Pastor Coates spent a month in the Edmonton Remand Centre after he violated a bail condition to not hold church services that health officials say didn’t follow health guidelines.

He was later released after pleading guilty and was fined $1,500. He has argued Alberta’s regulations infringed on his and his congregants constitutional right to freedom of religion and peaceful assembly.

Pastor Stephens remains in remand after being arrested last week following repeated public complaints over an outdoor church service that officials say broke health guidelines.

Hawley also made a comparison to Communist China in regards to Canada’s “religious crackdown.”

“I am troubled that our Canadian neighbors are effectively being forced to gather in secret, undisclosed locations to exercise their basic freedom to worship. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms states that “[e]veryone has the following fundamental freedoms,” which include the “freedom of conscience and religion.” The arrests and actions taken to enforce overly burdensome and unjustified orders, however, do not seem to live up to this praiseworthy statement.”

“Frankly, I would expect this sort of religious crackdown in Communist China, not in a prominent Western nation like Canada.”

Josh Hawley, Republican Senator for Missouri

The U.S. commission lists three requirements to declare that a country oppresses religious freedom. It says the oppression must be;

  1. Systematic.
  2. Ongoing.
  3. Egregious.

Any two of those is enough to be placed on the special watch list. Countries already on this list include Afghanistan, Cuba, Egypt and Turkey.

According to CTV News, a commission spokesperson said the agency is aware of Hawley’s letter and is “looking into it.”

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