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B.C. archbishop calls ban on religious services ‘baffling’ when bars still open

Click to play video 'B.C. faith leader pushes back against COVID-19 restrictions' B.C. faith leader pushes back against COVID-19 restrictions
B.C. faith leader pushes back against COVID-19 restrictions

The Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver is calling out what it says is a “baffling” double standard in new COVID-19 restrictions targeting religious worship.

A provincial health order issued Thursday has banned all in-person religious services until Dec. 7, as part of a broader effort to freeze social gatherings and clamp down on rising virus numbers.

Read more: Coronavirus: All in-person services in B.C. places of worship suspended

In a statement issued Sunday, Archbishop of Vancouver J. Michael Miller said the move was “puzzling” given that no community outbreaks had been reported in any of the church’s 78 parishes.

Click to play video 'Coronavirus: In-person gatherings at places of worship banned in B.C.' Coronavirus: In-person gatherings at places of worship banned in B.C.
Coronavirus: In-person gatherings at places of worship banned in B.C – Nov 19, 2020

The restrictions appear to treat religious indoor gatherings differently than secular ones, he said.

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“The reason why gathering for worship in limited numbers where all safety precautions are met is not allowed, while bars and restaurants and gyms can remain open with measures that are no more safe, is simply baffling,” wrote Miller.

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“To limit the religious freedom of believers to worship is a very serious matter since such freedom is specifically protected in Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

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Reaction to B.C.’s sweeping new COVID-19 restrictions

Miller said he hoped for more explanation from provincial officials, “now that there has been time for further reflection.”

Read more: Second wave: Dr. Bonnie Henry and Adrian Dix answer your COVID-19 questions at Global BC town hall

In issuing the order Thursday, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said she had consulted with faith leaders, but noted that there had been prior spread of COVID-19 in some religious settings.

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In September, multiple cases were linked to an outbreak in a Kelowna church, while in August, a number of northern B.C. residents contracted the virus after attending a prayer event in Alberta.

Read more: Kelowna, B.C., business owner berated by anti-maskers while holding baby

“With the community transmission that we’re seeing and the fact that we have seen transmission in some of our faith-based settings, we need to suspend those and support each other and find those ways to care for each other remotely,” Henry said.

Under the order, churches may remain open to the public, but may not hold services with multiple attendees.