WESTLOCK – The Westlock DJ turned dilettante who faces 10 Public Health Act tickets for organizing anti-COVID-19 measures rallies across northern Alberta earlier this year will take part in a pre-trial conference this week, while her case won’t return to court until early next year.
In Westlock Provincial Court Dec. 1, Judge Vaughn Myers set Benita Pedersen’s case over to Jan. 5, 2022 as specialized prosecutions office prosecutor Lindsay Tate told him a pre-trial conference that will include her office, Pedersen and Judge Charles Donald Gardner has been set for Dec. 9. This was the sixth adjournment of the combined case against her and ninth since her first ticket appeared on the court docket.
“I wish you luck at your PTC,” Judge Myers told Pedersen, who appeared in court via telephone.
Pedersen, who’s not represented by a lawyer and has yet to enter a plea, faces 10 PHA 73(1) tickets for contravening an order of the Medical Officer of Health, specifically in relation to mass gatherings. Each ticket carries a specified fine of $1,000, plus a 20 per cent victim fine surcharge.
Specialized prosecutions office prosecutor Craig Kallal, who’s assigned to the case, has been trying to schedule a pre-trial conference for the last few months and has said previously if it does go to trial he’s expecting it to last eight days as, “The police recorded all these rallies so there’s just a huge amount of evidence.”
At her Nov. 3 court date Pedersen initially told Judge Myers that she thought it might not be “appropriate” to go to a pre-trial conference, restating that she still hasn’t received full disclosure and specifically wants the results of an investigation by Alberta Chief Medical Officer Deena Hinshaw, “that confirmed COVID-19 was present in Alberta and constituted a public health emergency.” Kallal previously told court that Pedersen is requesting the Crown make some information available that she claims is first-party disclosure, while he contends it’s third party — the process to determine whether the Crown needs to provide it is known as an O'Connor application.
Judge Myers told Pedersen Nov. 3 that “ … it’s never too soon to go to a pre-trial conference because what you can do at a pre-trial conference is you can explain all of things that you are trying to explain to me now in a relaxed atmosphere. The pre-trial is not something you should fear. The pre-trial conference is something you should accept with open arms as that will give us a roadmap to this case.”
While her tickets are for anti-COVID-19 measures rallies in Westlock Feb. 11 and Feb. 25, plus a series of others across the region in Athabasca, Barrhead, Bonnyville and Lac La Biche, Pedersen continued to host “freedom rallies” and “church in the park” events and was seen on TV and social media heckling healthcare workers during a September rally at an Edmonton-area hospital. As part on an April 8 webcast dubbed The Thursday Fastball With Crusty Canuck, Pedersen claimed she was unafraid of the authorities and said, “If you want to put me in jail, go ahead. I’d rather not go to jail, but I’m in a sense prepared to if that’s what this is going to come to.”
At her October court appearance, Pedersen stated her motivation for the past rallies was “love” and has previously posted on social media she has “zero intention of paying any of these (fines)” and contends that she hasn’t broken any laws.
“I haven’t had a chance yet to speak to the charges against me, but I just want to mention to you and in general to all persons interested that the activities I was involved in were motivated by love,” Pedersen told Judge Rosanna Saccomani at her Oct. 13 court appearance. “I love people and I love my fellow man. I just want people to understand that. It’s not meant to cause any harm and from what I can tell no harm was caused by the activities I was involved in.”