A Christian pastor in Edmonton, along with her church, will be fined $80,000 for threatening the public’s health and safety by refusing to cooperate with health inspections meant to make sure COVID safety measures were in place.
Last year, as COVID was still wreaking havoc across the country, public health inspectors in Alberta were tasked to make sure people were wearing masks and social distancing. Churches weren’t immune from the rules that applied to all gatherings.
But Pastor Tracy Fortin of Church in the Vine refused to allow those inspectors to come inside her building on multiple occasions. That’s illegal. Section 71 of Alberta’s Public Health Act says “No person shall obstruct, molest, hinder or interfere” with someone whose job is keeping the public safe. There’s no religious exemption to that law. Christians don’t have some special right to spread COVID just because they’re ignorant of how viruses work, or because they don’t give a damn about the health of their neighbors, or because they believe churches shouldn’t be subject to any government regulations.
This was about safety, not interfering with the services, yet Fortin denied inspectors entry on three separate occasions. (She claimed past visits had been “disruptive and disturbing,” though there’s no proof of that.)
Even worse? After she and her husband were found guilty, this past May, of violating the Public Health Act six separate times, she celebrated after leaving the courtroom like she was some kind of martyr for the faith:
“When we first stepped out of the courtroom, I think we might have surprised them or caught them a little off guard,” Tracy Fortin said in the video of the service that has been posted online . “We went, ‘Yay. We’re guilty.'”
She told the congregation that the guilty verdicts made her feel more ’emboldened’.
“That’s just man’s verdict,” Fortin said. “Whenever man’s verdict does not line up with the word of God, it’s simple. It’s a lie. And we don’t receive it.”
It never crossed her mind that a deadly virus doesn’t give a damn what your religious beliefs are, or that plenty of devout Christians have died during the pandemic. These people just don’t give a damn if their decisions hurt anybody else because they’ve been deluded into thinking their faith alone justifies anything they do, no matter how many bodies are left in their wake.
Their guilt was no longer in doubt. What remained was the literal price they’d have to pay for their negligence. And now we have an answer to that: $80,000.
The $80,000 amount is lower than the $120,000 fine the prosecution was asking for, but it’s far more than the pittance the Fortins’ lawyer was requesting. (Technically, it’s a $65,000 fine against the church and a $15,000 fine against Tracy Fortin.)
Judge Shelagh Creagh issued her decision in an Alberta provincial court on June 28 and released a written order confirming it this week. In justifying her ruling, she elaborated on the Fortins’ responsibility and why their actions deserve punishment:
In this case, I have concluded that the gravity of the offence this is high. As I said above, at the time, Alberta was in the midst of a pandemic. Albertans were dying from COVID and our hospitals were challenged to accommodate and treat the sick. Major surgeries were postponed and treatments for other illness were postponed. Long term effects of the disease and the delay in other surgeries are still being identified.
This was not a spur of the moment decision to stop the inspector. It was a deliberate refusal to allow the inspector to do her duty. That refusal continued over four months and three separate occasions. It was an intentional and deliberate choice on their part which makes their degree of responsibility high.
A fundraising effort to pay the fines has only netted the couple about $3,600 so far.
I doubt any amount will actually deter the Fortins from thinking about anyone but themselves in the future. They’ve made it clear they’ll gleefully watch the world burn as long as they get to keep doing whatever they want. No amount of dead bodies and human suffering during the pandemic made them consider the consequences of their own actions last year, and there’s no reason to think they’ve developed any empathy since then.
Simply put: You have to be a moral monster to be a member of this church. Its leaders would rather pretend to be victims than admit they’re abusers.
No one was ever asking this church to stop holding services—or even gather in person. All they had to do was abide by the same rules as everyone else. They chose not to due to nothing more than their own Christian arrogance. It’s about damn time they paid a price for it.
The Fortins have until August 31 to pay the fine. Their lawyer says they plan to appeal the decision.