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Church elders charged for breaching provincial lockdown

UPDATE: Already facing charges levelled by Waterloo Regional Police, members of Trinity Bible Chapel were today (January 7) formally charged by Region of Waterloo bylaw enforcement officers.

As with the police charges, the region is citing the church for breaching limits on gatherings under the Reopening Ontario Act.

Six individuals and the church corporation itself were charged for hosting a gathering that exceeded the indoor gathering limit. Two individuals were also charged with attending a gathering of more than 10 persons. Nine charges were laid in total, the region said in a release.

The act calls for a minimum fine of $10,000 and a maximum fine of $100,000 (individual)/$10 million (corporation) upon a conviction for hosting or organizing an in person gathering that exceeds the 10-person limit, and prescribes a maximum fine of $100,000 if convicted for attending such a gathering.

In a separate statement, Region of Waterloo Public Health said it was supportive of enforcement efforts.

“Places of worship are a valuable support and they continue to offer a sense of community and comfort to many throughout these challenging times,” said medical officer of health Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang. “I am appreciative of the efforts of so many who have adapted their practices and are adhering to the Reopening Ontario Act and public health measures.”

— end of update at 5:02pm —

Six elders from Trinity Bible Chapel east of Heidelberg were charged last week for failing to comply with rules set under the province-wide lockdown.

A day after the lockdown went into effect on December 26, Waterloo Regional Police visited the church at 1373 Lobsinger Line and observed breaches of the province-wide shutdown restrictions, which limit congregations to 10 people indoors and 10 people outdoors. On December 30, police charged six members of the church.

The charged members were issued Part III Summons, Contrary to section 10.1 of the Reopening Ontario Act, for a gathering at a place of worship where the number of people in attendance exceeded the number permitted under the act.

The church elders decried the police action, saying they “are not criminals” in a release posted on the organization’s website on December 31.

“We are peaceful family men seeking to pastorally care for our families and our church in sincere obedience to God. We are not criminals,” they said in the release, calling out the Waterloo Region Police Service (WRPS).

“Although we know of officers within the WRPS who personally disagree with these charges, it appears the WRPS is trying to make an example of us. For years we have taught our children to respect police, and now our children and grandchildren are witness to their fathers and grandfathers receiving charges from police for worshipping Christ with our church. It is a dark day for Waterloo Region and Ontario.”

The church group also took aim at Chief Bryan Larkin directly, pointing out as hypocritical his support for a large gathering, likely June’s Black Lives Matter rally in Kitchener.

“While we seek to honour and pray for our governing officials, we are also grieved over the apparent hypocrisy and arbitrary applications of law. Several politicians have been caught violating their own laws by visiting cottages, hosting gatherings, or jaunting to warmer climates. Our very own Chief of Police, Brian Larkin (sic), publicly endorsed much larger public gatherings in June. While Ontarians were restricted to outdoor gatherings of five or fewer persons, the Chief of Police offered the ‘full support’ to a protest in which the ‘crowd may have been between 12,000 and 20,000 strong.’ Chief Larkin explained to participants, even as they contravened lockdown orders, that police ‘will ensure you have the support needed to practice your democratic right and have your voice heard.’”

In its posting, the church notes it has not had any cases of COVID-19, stressing that it had made its intentions clear not to abide by another lockdown.

“Since we decided to re-open the church in June, implementing various COVID protocols in our services, we have not had a single outbreak traced back to our church. We thank God for that. Instead, we have heard a plethora of stories from many of our congregants about how they were negatively affected spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and financially during the first lockdown. On December 3, we informed our governing authorities that we cannot shut down the church again in an open letter entitled, “Here we Stand: The Church Must Meet.” Not one of our officials replied with an attempt to work with us.  Our church community has become a vital refuge for hundreds of people during these times of despair. Our government is destroying our society to prevent the spread of a virus with a fraction of a fractional death rate. This is evil. Nowhere does the Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantee freedom from risk or virus, but it does protect the freedom of conscience, religion, belief, and assembly,” reads the post.

This is not the first such issue involving churches and adherence to provincial regulations related to the pandemic. Pastor Henry Hildebrant from Aylmer, Ontario’s Church of God, for instance, was also fined for holding church services and attending a no-more-lockdown protest organized by Kingston-Frontenac MPP Randy Hillier. 

There is also a website under the name Reopen Ontario Churches where some 445 church groups have petitioned Premier Doug Ford to exempt churches from the lockdown. Trinity Bible Chapel is among the signatories, as are the likes of Milverton Christian Fellowship and Kitchener-Waterloo Christian Fellowship.

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