Saskatchewan’s premier wants an explanation for why an Easter drive-in church service was prohibited over the weekend.
Scott Moe’s office said the Saskatchewan Health Authority has been asked to account for its decision, as drive-in events seem to maintain safe physical distancing.
“While we must remain vigilant in observing physical distancing, we should also encourage innovative and unique ideas that support the ability of Saskatchewan residents to pull together while staying apart,” Moe’s office said in a statement Tuesday.
Other churches across the country have held drive-in services.
Moe’s office added that hundreds of people were allowed to pay tribute Monday to family of Edmonton Oilers hockey player Colby Cave, who died of a brain bleed in Toronto. Vehicles stretching several kilometres lined a highway as his family returned home to Battleford, northwest of Saskatoon.
Last month, the province issued a public health order limiting gatherings to no more than 10 people, one of several restrictions taking place due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Jordan Gadsby, lead pastor of the Nipawin Apostolic Church, said people were invited to stop in an arena parking lot and tune into an Easter Sunday church service that morning from inside their vehicles.
“We thought it would be worthwhile to try and do something a little bit creative and a little bit different,” he said.
Gadsby said people in the community were excited about the event, which would have met physical distancing requirements because nobody needed to step outside their vehicle or roll down their windows.
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“It’s good for people to have something to look forward to, even if we’re not really in the same space,” he said.
“When everyone’s stuck at home for long periods of time it takes a toll on our mental health and our spiritual health.”
On Saturday evening, he said he got a call from a public health official explaining that complaints had been made about the drive-in service.
“I believe the wording was that you’re strongly recommended not to do this and we consider this to be a mass gathering, which goes against the public health guidelines,” Gadsby said.
He told the official that worshippers wouldn’t have physical contact, but there was still concern people would leave their vehicles and visit with one another.
To avoid placing the church and anyone attending at risk of receiving fines, Gadsby said the church decided to cancel.
“Having to cancel this event was one of the most disappointing and discouraging moments of leadership for us.”
The Calgary-based Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms said it has sent a letter to the health authority expressing concern about the drive-in service being declared a mass gathering.
Jay Cameron, a litigation manager with the justice centre, said he believes what happened to the church wasn’t justified, because no health risk was posed by people staying inside their own vehicles.
“People are longing for a sense of community during the coronavirus outbreak and they still have a right of freedom of association and religion as protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”
Cameron said charter rights should not be infringed on based on hypothetical situations, such as people possibly leaving their vehicles.
He said he wants the health authority to admit it made a mistake and that it won’t be repeated, otherwise the centre will consider legal action.
Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.
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To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.
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