Manitoba churches urge province to further loosen COVID-19 restrictions

Manitoba churches are calling on the province to loosen COVID-19 restrictions.
Manitoba churches are calling on the province to loosen COVID-19 restrictions. Getty Images

More than 50 Manitoba churches have signed a petition asking for the province to lift COVID-19 restrictions on Sunday services.

Mark Reimer of Grace Life Church in Beausejour, Man., told 680 CJOB that the illness doesn’t appear to be as much of a threat as initially feared, though churches are still taking it seriously.

READ MORE: Winnipeg religious communities respond to the arrival of COVID-19

“Our church is actually very supportive of the restrictions. At the beginning, we would have probably done so voluntarily because we didn’t know what this would like, but really, in every jurisdiction, the numbers don’t quite match the model,” Reimer said.

“I think we know a lot more about this virus at this point, and it doesn’t seem like it is maybe quite the threat as it was supposed to or was thought to be.”

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Health officials reported two new cases of COVID-19 in the province on Thursday.

This brings the total number of probable and confirmed cases to 308 in Manitoba, with eight active cases and 293 recoveries.

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Chief public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said Thursday the two new cases were asymptomatic and there’s not a high risk to the community.

“But (this) certainly reminds us that this virus is still present, and the importance of those physical-distancing measures,” he said.

Reimer said services at his church have been held outside for the last few weeks.

The petition, which has been signed by more than 50 churches in Manitoba communities, from Winnipeg to Virden to Thompson and beyond, calls for the Pallister government to put more responsibility on individuals and allow religious organizations to set their own restrictions for gatherings.

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“The free assembly of the church is not incidental to Christian worship but is an essential component of our worship,” the petition says. “It is not the role of the state to determine that online resources substitute as a peaceful assembly.”

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The petition cites the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and its guarantee of the freedom of conscience, religion and peaceful assembly, and suggests “reasonable limits” have not been demonstrated, considering Manitoba’s low number of coronavirus cases.

The province’s recently released Phase 2 reopening plan, which begins Sunday, doesn’t specifically mention churches, but it does increase the number of people allowed at indoor public gatherings to 50 and outdoor gatherings to 100.