Supporters gather outside court as Pastor James Coates of GraceLife Church appears in court after he was arrested for holding Sunday services in violation of COVID-19 rules, in Stony Plain, Alta., on Wednesday Feb. 24, 2021. A U.S. senator wants Canada investigated for violating religious freedom over the arrests of Coates and another Alberta pastor accused of flouting COVID-19 restrictions. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

Supporters gather outside court as Pastor James Coates of GraceLife Church appears in court after he was arrested for holding Sunday services in violation of COVID-19 rules, in Stony Plain, Alta., on Wednesday Feb. 24, 2021. A U.S. senator wants Canada investigated for violating religious freedom over the arrests of Coates and another Alberta pastor accused of flouting COVID-19 restrictions. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

U.S. senator wants Canada on religious freedom watch list over pastor COVID arrests

Commission on International Religious Freedom has received the request and is investigating

A U.S. senator wants Canada investigated for violating religious freedom over the arrests of Alberta pastors accused of flouting COVID-19 restrictions.

Missouri Republican Josh Hawley has asked his country’s Commission on International Religious Freedom to consider putting Canada on its special watch list.

He compares the arrests of pastors James Coates and Tim Stephens to something that would occur in China, which is believed to have detained more than a million Muslims in so-called re-education camps.

The commission says it has received Hawley’s request and that it’s looking in to it.

Coates spent a month in the Edmonton Remand Centre after he violated a bail condition not to hold church services that officials said were ignoring measures on COVID-19 capacity limits, physical distancing and masking.

Stephens remains in custody after he was arrested last week following repeated public complaints about ongoing services that ignored similar orders.

—The Canadian Press

RELATED: Judge dismisses charter application of pastor on trial for violating health orders

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