Cops back off holding non-COVID-compliant citizens ‘accountable’ for religious service
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AYLMER, Ontario, May 1, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) — Police from an Ontario town now say they will not be pressing charges against Christian churchgoers for attending a drive-in Sunday service. This change comes despite police earlier stating that congregants would be held “accountable“ because their service allegedly violated provincial coronavirus social distancing laws.
In a statement circulated yesterday, the Aylmer Police Department said that despite having reasonable grounds to lay charges, they will not issue fines to parishioners of the Aylmer Church of God who attended a drive-in Sunday service on April 26.
Instead, Aylmer police say they will “use the incident” as an “educational tool” for the Church of God members.
Pastor Henry Hildebrandt of The Church of God said in a statement that he was thankful for all the support his church received regarding the situation.
“We extend our gratitude to Canadians across the country that have prayed, called, emailed, commented, and messaged us this past week. The support and passion for freedom in this country has been overwhelming,” said Hildebrandt.
“God is sovereign and His Word will prevail. This nation was founded on the principles of religious freedom and peaceful assembly and we pray that we will enjoy these privileges for many years to come.”
This past Wednesday, a group of federal members of Parliament sent a letter to Ontario premier Doug Ford. The letter said police departments holding drive-in church services “accountable” constitutes police overreach.
Although not directly calling out Aylmer police, the letter said recent police actions in Ontario “weaken the goodwill that has helped maintain strong social distancing compliance, harm the well-being of religious communities and undermine our nation’s constitutional fabric.”
Yesterday, Hildebrandt thanked the M.P.s who signed the letter for “standing up for the Charter of Rights and Freedoms on behalf of ALL Canadians, regardless of their creed or religion.”
Hildebrandt noted in his statement yesterday that he hopes Ontario premier Doug Ford will “swiftly” provide clearer and more concise “enforcement directives” concerning the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act.
“We are grateful for that and believe it is the right decision. This allows the Premier and his cabinet the opportunity to swiftly provide clear enforcement directives pertaining to the Emergency Act that uphold public safety while respecting the right of people to express their faith in a safe manner,” said Hildebrandt.
“We continue to hope for a political resolution to this situation that does not put our local police in an unenviable position, and we thank the Aylmer Police for their continued service and protection to our community.”
Ontario’s Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act says it is against the law for more than five people to get together to conduct a religious service. Hildebrandt believes that this a direct violation of religious freedom as protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Global News reported that Hildebrandt is looking to hear directly from Premier Ford and his Cabinet before he proceeds with another drive-in church service.
Aylmer police were on site at the Aylmer Church of God, filming the most recent Sunday drive-in service. Congregants were in their cars with their windows closed, tuning in to a low-wattage radio station broadcasting the service.
Although police did not block the entry or exit of vehicles or issue fines, they soon afterward said “people will be held accountable for what happened today.”
The church had twice previously held a drive-in-style Sunday service without any issues and with the full approval and permission of the local police, said Hildebrandt.
Hildebrandt said in a statement posted last Saturday that police had warned him that should he proceed with a third service, it would be “under the threat of hefty fines, disruption, and physical roadblocks by order of the Aylmer Chief of Police.”
Hildebrandt noted that he told his congregants that they did not need to show up for the service.
Last week, Aylmer police chief Zvonko Horvat said he had instructed his officers to begin to lay charges under the Ontario Emergency Measures and Civil Protections Act on any “faith-based organizations that break the order banning gatherings of more than five people.”
The Canada-based Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCFF) was retained by The Church of God in Aylmer last week to help them with their cause.
Lisa D.S. Bildy, a lawyer for the JCCF, told LifeSiteNews that a letter they sent to Aylmer police last week asked them to rescind their decision to ticket church members.
“Government authorities like the Aylmer Police Department may only infringe Canadians’ constitutional rights if such authorities can demonstrate a pressing and substantial justification for doing so. There is no justification for prohibiting people from parking in the same parking lot for a drive-in religious service when drive-thru restaurant windows and grocery stores are open,” said Bildy in the letter.
The incident in Aylmer is only one of a growing number of police initiatives regarding the breaking of social distancing rules in Canada.
Just this past week, a Calgary street preacher from Mission 7 Street Church was issued a $1,200 fine while he was feeding the homeless.
Recently, an Ontario pastor was fined $880 for violating “social distancing” health rules because he had held “a seder night” at his residence.
In early April, another Calgary street preacher was fined $1,200 for breaking social distancing health rules after refusing to cancel a street service that included feeding the homeless.
Also, health authorities from Saskatchewan banned a drive-in Easter Sunday service at a small-town Canadian church, saying it would have constituted a “mass gathering” in violation of coronavirus health orders.
The JCCF served a legal warning to the Saskatchewan Health Authority, saying it violated the rights and freedoms of worshipers from the Nipawin Apostolic Church.
The government of Saskatchewan later reversed the decision by its health authority banning drive-in religious services and issued guidelines that recognize the right for churches to hold such services as long as safety precautions are heeded.
A few weeks ago, the JCCF warned that Canadians’ rights are being trampled because of the coronavirus lockdown measures.
Pro-abortion prime minister Justin Trudeau said in late March that “all options are on the table” when it comes to combating the coronavirus. This includes leaving the door open to the possibility of tracking Canadians’ cell phones either via a dedicated app or through one’s cell phone provider.
Canada has been in a nationwide lockdown since early March, with all public schools, churches, sporting events, and sit-down restaurants, and most stores deemed non-essential, shut. As of today, Canada has registered just under 54,000 coronavirus cases with 3,387 deaths.