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Controversial pastor speaks out against Aylmer’s state of emergency ahead of anti-mask protest

Pastor Henry Hildebrandt made headlines early in the pandemic by holding drive-in services at Aylmer's Church of God that flouted COVID-19-related restrictions. Sawyer Bogdan / Global News

The pastor of the Church of God in Aylmer, Ont., is speaking out against the town’s declaration of a state of emergency in response to the second anti-masking “freedom march.”

On Monday, the town declared a state of emergency, which Mayor Mary French said in a statement was “a result of the potential for civil unrest and service disruptions relating to protests and demonstrations regarding COVID-19 directions.”

Local police confirmed on Twitter the declaration was in response to the Anti-Masking Freedom March planned for Saturday. That march will mark the second of its kind that Aylmer has seen, with the first arriving on Oct. 24.

Read more: Officials react to Aylmer, Ont. state of emergency

The pastor of the church, Henry Hildebrandt, who made headlines early on in the pandemic for his church services defying COVID-19 restrictions, released a video on Tuesday in response to the decision.

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“Every single Canadian citizen — and that includes the Aylmer residents — has a constitutional biblical freedom that we can stand on a street corner and say, ‘My opinion is this, and I am expressing it,'” he said.

“It is very concerning if our mayor is more concerned about the reputation of the town and more concerned that it goes peaceful than upholding our God-given constitutional freedom.”

Click to play video 'Coronavirus outbreak: Church of God in Aylmer, Ontario hold drive-in service despite police warning' Coronavirus outbreak: Church of God in Aylmer, Ontario hold drive-in service despite police warning
Coronavirus outbreak: Church of God in Aylmer, Ontario hold drive-in service despite police warning – May 3, 2020

Since the start of the pandemic, Hildebrandt has been very vocal about the gathering limits put in place and spoke out at his most recent Sunday service about mask-wearing and the rise in cases.

“As a Canadian citizen, I have a right to say, ‘My option is I don’t wear a mask,’ and I have the freedom to express it.”

“Shut off the television, and there are no more cases,” he preached to a group of people both in and out of their cars in the Church of God parking lot on Saturday.

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Aylmer, which has a population of nearly 7,500 people, has recorded a total of 89 cases since March, a large number of them in late July and early August. As a result, the town’s incident rate is equivalent to that of 1,187 cases per 100,000 people.

Read more: Coronavirus: 8 cases in London, 20-case surge in Elgin-Oxford, 1 death in Huron-Perth

Southwestern Public Health’s Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Joyce Lock, issued a statement on Wednesday warning against the march on Saturday.

“When it comes to our health, our families, and our community, we feel passionately. That passion is driving people to come together in various ways to express their thoughts about the public health measures designed to stop the spread of COVID-19,” she said.

“At a stage in the pandemic where cases are not only rising provincially but rising locally, large gatherings where social distancing is not maintained are not safe.”

Lock reminds people that outdoor gatherings should be no more than 25 people under Ontario’s Emergency Orders.

“If an outbreak were to occur in a group larger than this, contact tracing and containment of the virus becomes virtually impossible, and the significant consequences of ill health will be felt across the entire community.”

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— With Files from Andrew Graham and Matthew Trevithick Global News