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Coronavirus: Drive-in church service in Aylmer, Ont., to proceed despite police threats of fines, roadblocks

An aerial image captures a full parking lot at the Church of God in Aylmer Ont. as drive-in church service takes place Sunday morning. Henry Hildebrandt/Provided

The pastor of the Church of God in Aylmer, Ont., says they’re expecting more than 250 people to attend their third drive-in service on Sunday — and possibly the police, too.

Pastor Henry Hildebrandt spoke with 980 CFPL Saturday afternoon.

He says the church refuses to step down and cancel drive-in services despite the Aylmer Police Service issuing a statement Friday, highlighting a portion of the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act which states it is against the law to attend a gathering of more than five people for the purposes of conducting religious services.

The act was announced on March 28 by the Office of the Premier of Ontario. It issued a statement and explained one of the purposes of the act was to prevent further spread of COVID-19.

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“We don’t feel that it is just to us as Christians,” Hildebrandt said. “We have arrived at a point where we must [stand-up] for all who value justice, and reject unreasonable, unjustifiable curbs of our freedom.”

Hildebrandt added the congregation “can’t wait”.

According to the church, during drive-in services, parishioners are asked to stay inside their parked vehicles in the parking lot with the windows rolled up and listen to the service through a radio signal.

Pastor Henry Hildebrandt. Henry Hildebrandt/Provided

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Churches closed, masses suspended until May in London, Ont.

The church had previously held two drive-in church services, the last on April 19.

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In a statement issued by the Church of God Saturday evening, the church said it plans to hold its third drive-in service “… under the threat of hefty fines, disruption, and physical roadblocks by order of the Aylmer Chief of Police.”

“We have attempted, unsuccessfully, to reach an acceptable compromise with [police] these past 6 days,” the statement read.

It also says police received 15 complaint calls from people, worried that provincial orders were violated as more than five people were gathering inside their cars in the parking lot.

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Hildebrandt told 980 CFPL if police were to fine the church this upcoming Sunday, April 26, for holding a drive-in service, the church is “absolutely not” paying it.

“We definitely plan to take it to court — whatever it takes.”

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When asked how he thinks the legal case might play out in court, Hildebrandt says “at this point, it is very clear to us and according to the legal counsel we’ve been receiving … there’s no question about it that [the courts] find themselves in their own side of history and they have no grounds to stand on.”

Hildebrandt also made comparisons between drive-in church service and liquor store parking lots.

“Liquor is essential, but God is not?”

In the statement issued by the church, it states “liquor stores are considered essential and their parking lots are not under any scrutiny. … Drive-thru establishments are under no threat of closure and their parking lots are regularly filled with customers looking to have a chat with their friends.

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“We are not asking for special treatment or privileges, equality would be satisfactory.”

READ MORE: London, Ont., church project sees ‘95%’ of homeless men housed despite COVID-19

Aylmer Police Service did not release any additional information, including how much a “hefty” fine for the church would cost.

The drive-in service is held at the Church of God in Aylmer on Sunday, April 26, at 10:30 a.m.

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