Supporters rallied outside the Edmonton courthouse earlier this month as GraceLife Church pastor James Coates appeared to appeal his bail conditions. Coates, who has clashed with Alberta authorities who say he is breaking anti-COVID-19 restrictions, was released from jail after 35 days on Monday but must pay a $1,500 fine. He goes to trial at the beginning of May. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson)

After 35 days in custody, controversial Edmonton pastor is released from jail

An Alberta judge has ruled that jailed Edmonton-area pastor James Coates can be released immediately from custody but must pay a $1,500 fine.

Coates, who preaches at GraceLife Church and has clashed for months with authorities, was released from the Edmonton Remand Centre Monday after pleading guilty to breaching a court undertaking.

He must pay the fine within 12 days, according to a ruling by Judge Jeffrey Champion on Monday.

Coates had been in jail for 35 days for not following a condition of his original bail release that he not hold church services because he was violating public health measures–measures designed to combat the spread of COVID-19.

GraceLife Church in Parkland County, west of Edmonton, has been holding Sunday services in contravention of public health orders and is continuing to do so, according to authorities. (Radio-Canada/Andreane Williams)

On Monday, Champion agreed to all but one charge against Coates being dropped.

He is still charged under Alberta’s Public Health Act for holding services that allegedly broke a restriction on the size of gatherings.

A trial is scheduled to begin May 3.

Coates turned himself in to police on Feb. 16 and was charged with two counts in contravention of the Public Health Act and for failing to comply with a condition of his undertaking.

He was granted bail but refused release, saying he could not abide by the conditions.

Coates appealed the conditions but lost earlier this month.

Supporters pray outside an Edmonton court in February after James Coates was arrested for holding Sunday services in violation of COVID-19 rules. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson)

Prior to his detention, his Sunday services were drawing up to 300 members, and in early February Coates was charged for a second time for breaking the rules.

He was fined in December and Alberta Health Services ordered the church to close in January, but Coates ignored the orders. 

His lawyer, James Kitchen, told Coates’s bail hearing earlier this month that Coates can’t follow a bail condition that forbids him from holding services because that would violate his conscience by disobeying God.

“This is a matter of deep-seeded personal conscience and religious beliefs for Pastor Coates,” Kitchen said.

“He is unable to disobey the God he believes in. He is compelled to obey … as [are] his congregants.”

The church has continued to hold services despite Coates being in custody.

With files from The Canadian Press

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