Charges Dropped Against Pastor Who Allegedly Violated Reopening Ontario Act: JCCF

Charges Dropped Against Pastor Who Allegedly Violated Reopening Ontario Act: JCCF
Pastor Michael Thiessen, left to right, then federal MP Derek Sloan and People's Party leader Maxime Bernier wait to hold a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on April 15, 2021, to discuss their "End the Lockdown Caucus." (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick)
Isaac Teo

Ontario’s Crown prosecutor has decided to drop all charges against a pastor who allegedly violated the province’s Reopening Ontario Act during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF), which represented the pastor, said the scheduled Sept. 14, 2024, trial of Michael Thiessen of Grace Baptist Church in Alliston, Ont., “will not be proceeding.”

“We are pleased that taxpayer-funded resources will no longer be devoted to this prosecution, which had been carried on pursuant to unscientific laws that were unjustified violations of our Charter rights and freedoms,” said JCCF President John Carpay in an Aug.17 release.

According to the JCCF, the charges stemmed from an incident on April 25, 2021. A member of the Ontario Provincial Police had been conducting surveillance on the church in response to a complaint that it allegedly exceeded the capacity limit set under the Reopening Ontario Act.

The Ontario government had declared a state of emergency earlier that month, placing the entire province under a stay-at-home order for four weeks. The government said it was an attempt to curb the spread of COVID-19, banning public gatherings with very limited exceptions.

The JCCF said two church services were held on that morning. After the first service was concluded, police officers stopped most vehicles leaving the church’s parking lot, detaining motorists and warning them of the potential fines related to the alleged act violations.

“Following the second church service, Mr. Thiessen was also detained in a vehicle stop,” the release said. “The officer informed Mr. Thiessen of the complaint against the church and that he would be charged with violating the Reopening Ontario Act.”

Charter Rights

The JCCF said Mr. Thiessen’s legal counsel put forward a motion to exclude evidence obtained in what they argued was a violation of Section 10(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. That section guarantees the right to retain and instruct counsel without delay.
“The purpose of section 10(b) is to provide an individual who has been arrested or detained with an opportunity to obtain legal advice relevant to his or her legal situation,” says the definition on a government webpage.

JCCF said in the release its legal counsel argued that Mr. Thiessen “should have immediately been informed of his right to counsel upon being detained by the police officer.”

Responding to the Crown prosecutor’s decision to stay charges against him, Mr. Thiessen shared his thoughts on platform X, formerly known as Twitter, on Aug. 17.

“I’m thankful that we held our ground, and that these charges are gone,” he posted.