Church defies stay-at-home order, holds in-person services; police call it a 'complex issue'
KITCHENER -- There have been new developments related to a Woolwich Township church that defied the provincial stay-at-home order.
Trinity Bible Chapel held in-person services on Sunday. Waterloo regional police were not seen on site, leading to questions for Chief Bryan Larkin about why police did not intervene.
Larkin fielded questions from media during a press conference on Monday morning, calling it a "complex issue" and a "complicated process."
At one point, he explained that the Reopening Ontario Act doesn't allow police to prevent actions; they lawfully have to allow access before they can shut anything down.
Still, officers didn't shut anything down at the chapel on Sunday, when it held two in-person services, defying a court order handed down by the Attorney General's office.
Larkin also called it a balancing act, saying that, while these people did overtly defy the rules, police need to assess the risk when it comes to breaking up a crowd.
He said this situation involved anywhere between 300 and 600 people of all ages who attended the services.
Larkin said they're taking a "strategic approach," also pointing out that the health of officers would be put at risk.
"I'm so disappointed that people would go there," Premier Doug Ford said. "I understand how important places of worship are, but they have to lead by example."
Bylaw officers gathered evidence from a distance, but it's not clear if any tickets were issued.
Trinity Bible Chapel is already facing charges for ignoring lockdown orders earlier this year. If convicted, the church could face millions in fines.
The Attorney General's office issued a court order telling the church to follow the rules or risk being held in contempt of court.
"We are working with our colleagues over the Ministry of the Attorney General on an injunction," Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said. "Again, I will reinforce, community leaders need to lead and that includes our faith leaders."
The Region of Waterloo said it will send information on the services to the Attorney Generals and any charges now before the courts relating to enforcement.
"Numerous charges are now before the courts relating to enforcement.
The region will confirm if any charges are issued as result of bylaw’s observations yesterday," a statement from the region said in part.
Larkin said once again that police are working with bylaw and public health officials. This time, though, he said they'll develop a plan to prevent further services and to take further action, all while keeping it safe for everyone involved.
Woolwich Township Mayor Sandy Shantz declined to comment, saying the issue is complex and is currently being addressed in the courts
Church of God in Aylmer held a drive-in church service on Sunday, but a video posted by the church showed people leaving their vehicles and going inside. Police said they're investigating and expect to lay charges.
David Seljak, a professor of religion at St. Jerome's University, said more conservative Christians tend to be more uncomfortable with a lack of in-person worship.
"These pastors feel that, without it, the life of the church is dead," Seljak said.
He added the Bible, although interpreted in different ways, doesn't specifically say weekly services are required.
"Experience of religion is important, but there are health and safety issues that trump those issues in my opinion," Seljak said.
Stan Fowler, a professor at Heritage College and Seminary in Cambridge, said most religious leaders understand these are temporary measures.
"I don't want to waste a civil disobedience protest on an issue that's not an ultimate issue," Fowler said.
He said the meaning of the word essential is also interpreted differently.
"The physical gathering isn't essential in exactly the same way in, let's say, a store that provides food is essential," Fowler said.
With reporting by CTV News Kitchener's Natalie van Rooy