Two New Brunswick pastors beat contempt allegations for holding church services during lockdowns.
SAINT JOHN: Two pastors from His Tabernacle Family Church in New Brunswick have defeated a government motion to put them into contempt of court for holding church services in a commercial tent during a provincial state of emergency that banned indoor public gatherings in the fall of 2021. A copy of the decision can be read here.
At the time when the tent services were held, Pastors Phillip Hutchings and Cody Butler were bound by a court order requiring them to make “all reasonable efforts” to comply with mandatory health orders, including the order banning indoor public gatherings. The province alleged that the commercial tent was an indoor space, thereby putting the pastors in breach of both the provincial ban and the court order.
The Democracy Fund (TDF) retained Jonathan Martin to defend the pastors. After hearing legal argument from Martin, the court concluded that it could not “clearly and unequivocally” conclude that the commercial tent met the definition of a public indoor space as described in the mandatory order.
Nor could Chief Justice Tracey K. DeWare, who heard the contempt motion, conclude that the pastors knew they were breaching the mandatory health orders. According to the Chief Justice, an “alternative and reasonable point of view can be that the Respondents moved their church services to the commercial tent in an attempt to avoid the restrictions on ‘public indoor space’ and therefore avoid breaching the Mandatory Order.”
Phillip Hutchings and Cody Butler are no strangers to legal proceedings. They previously persuaded the New Brunswick Court of Appeal that a contempt finding against them should be vacated for reasonable apprehension of bias. More recently, charges of obstruction and disobeying health orders were dropped against the pastors in November 2022 after they filed a constitutional application challenging the legality of the health orders.
In all cases, the pastors were represented by TDF-funded lawyer Jonathan Martin.
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About The Democracy Fund:
Founded in 2021, The Democracy Fund (TDF) is a Canadian charity dedicated to constitutional rights, advancing education and relieving poverty. TDF promotes constitutional rights through litigation and public education. TDF supports an access to justice initiative for Canadians whose civil liberties have been infringed by government lockdowns and other public policy responses to the pandemic.