By GILLIAN SLADE on May 22, 2020.
The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms sent a legal letter to the government claiming unfair guidelines issued for places of worship that are not applied to other places people congregate.
Provincial guidelines for places of worship include the need to “keep a list of congregants who were present for services” and an “up-to-date contact list for all staff and volunteers, including names, addresses and phone numbers”.
JCCF president John Carpay says these are not required of people choosing to dine at a restaurant.
“It’s very scary because only in a police state does the government want to know” this type of information of people attending church.
Alberta Health has noted the importance of contact tracing. When someone tests positive for COVID-19 health authorities need to contact those that the person was in contact with to limit the spread of the virus.
A spokesperson for Alberta Health, Tom McMillan, did not answer the question of why guests in restaurants do not have to register their names and contact information while churches do.
“There is no science behind the double standard,” said Carpay.
The act of singing is usually a significant part of a place of worship but the government says congregational singing is not allowed.
“Because singing involves expelling air from the lungs with greater force than normal breathing, the risk is increased as well,” said McMillan.
Carpay says he’s asked for scientific evidence that influenced this decision but nothing has been provided.
McMillan says the evidence is “still emerging, but there have been concerns raised worldwide about the potential dangers.”
He provided a link (see below) to information by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published May 15 regarding a choir in Skagit County, Wash. Of 61 choir members practising on March 10, where one person was known to be symptomatic and later tested positive, 53 people became ill and two ultimately died. The document says the group was together for more than two hours, shared snacks and stacked chairs afterwards.
“The act of singing, itself, might have contributed to transmission through emission of aerosols, which is affected by loudness or vocalization,” the document says.
Carpay says the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms places the onus on government to justify restrictions on freedoms.
“If the government says you cannot sing in church … the onus in on the government to show that singing is dangerous,” said Carpay.
The province also advises that vehicles at any drive-in church services must be parked at least two metres apart. Carpay says he has not observed any such requirement at drive-thru restaurants.
JCCF is a legal advocacy organization based in Calgary.