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Cardinal Thomas Collins, Archbishop of TorontoPatrick Craine / LifeSiteNews

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TORONTO, Canada, March 9, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) — Archbishop of Toronto Cardinal Thomas Collins has called out Ontario’s government for permitting places like liquor stores and malls to operate at 25 percent capacity while keeping places of worship at a hard cap of only 10 people.

“I do not believe that our elected officials and medical officers of health consciously intend to suppress religious freedom,” Collins conceded in a March 5 call to action letter urging the faithful to write Premier Doug Ford and their Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP) to demand equal treatment.

“I realize that they are in an extremely difficult position. We do, however, ask to be treated equitably. In recent days, it is becoming more difficult to believe that is happening,” Collins added.

Today, many regions in Ontario that have been previously locked down with stay-at-home orders, including Toronto and Peel Region, moved into the “grey” zone. This allows many businesses that have been closed since November to finally open their doors, but with limits on how many people can enter. Essential stores have a 50 percent capacity limit, while non-essential stores have a 25 percent limit.

Cardinal Collins related in his letter to the faithful the extent of the discrimination.

“A few days ago, a movie scout contacted one of our churches to inquire whether the basement hall could be used to feed a crew of 50 people. ‘We have dispensation from the province and strict protocols will be enforced.’ Later in the week, the priest presided at a funeral in the same church, limited to 10 people inside (including himself).”

“Which of these do we consider more essential?” he asked.

The Cardinals said the difference in treatment “makes no sense.”

“The province has relaxed restrictions in Grey (Lockdown) regions, with retailers permitted to operate at 25 per cent capacity. Yet places of worship, regardless of whether they seat 100 or 1,000 people, must remain at a hard cap of 10 people. Next week, a funeral at St. Michael’s Cathedral (capacity 1,500) will be capped at 10 people, while around the corner dozens can enter the local liquor store and thousands will visit the Eaton Centre,” he said.

Collins called on the faithful to contact the government and demand change.

“It is now appropriate for us to respectfully amplify our concerns. I am asking you to take two minutes to write to your Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP). A copy of your letter will also be shared with Premier Ford,” he said, linking to a website called A Place to Worship that was created by the Archdiocese of Toronto as a platform from which people can lodge their complaints.

“I encourage all of you, whether you are in the Grey Zone (Toronto and Peel Regions as of March 8) or an area where churches can open at greater, but still greatly limited capacity, to respectfully request that any restrictions for places of worship use a percentage of capacity as opposed to an arbitrary number.”

The Cardinal pointed out that the campaign was an “interfaith initiative” with participation from various faith communities.

“We are still in the midst of fighting a pandemic and we must be prudent in our actions. Our strict WorshipSafe protocols in our churches have proven to be effective. It’s time to address the growing inequities facing our faith communities,” he wrote in his letter.

Cardinal Collins joins Archbishop of Quebec Cardinal Gérald Lacroix who criticized his province’s government for reopening movie theaters and allowing them to accommodate up to 250 people, while keeping churches confined to the 10-person limit.

Lacroix said in a Feb. 19 message posted to the archdiocese’s website that believers “cannot understand why access to their places of worship remains limited to 10 people in the red zone while cinemas can accommodate up to 250 people.”

Lacroix pointed out how he had previously asked the faithful to support measures put in place by the Quebec authorities in early January that banned all gatherings, including inside churches, across the province. Those measures were later modified that same month to allow a maximum of 10 people for religious gatherings after various religious groups objected.

“Today, it is more difficult for me to express my solidarity with the announced decisions, because they appear to me to be unreasonable and unfair towards the communities of faith,” the Cardinal said, pointing out that the “double standard” is obvious to many people.

“How do we explain the fact that a family going through a bereavement is thus limited to accompany a loved one to church and offer him a Christian funeral when, sometimes in the same neighborhood, it is possible to gather 250 in a cinema,” he said.