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Police monitor Manitoba churches Sunday for health order violations

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Manitoba RCMP blocked the parking lot of a church that was trying to host a service Sunday.

Global News reporters on the scene heard RCMP officers telling people if they walk into the parking lot toward the Church of God Restoration, which is south of Steinbach they will be fined.

Read more: Manitoba RCMP investigating Steinbach-area church after alleged public health violation

There were about 150 or so cars lined up down the road outside the church with people sitting in their cars.

There are at least 10 RCMP cars with officers walking in the area.

Global News staff on the scene also could see a minister preaching outside of the church.

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The Church of God Restoration, a chapter of a North American Christian denomination founded in the ‘80s, was slapped with a $5,000 fine after holding a Sunday service last week, which saw “well over” 100 people attend, RCMP said at the time.

Global News tried to talk to people associated with the church on Sunday, but they declined comment.

Read more: Steinbach-area church fined $5,000 for not following COVID-19 health orders

The province banned all faith-based gatherings as part of the level red pandemic restrictions put in place on Nov. 12 while COVID-19 cases skyrocketed in the province.

The Southern Health Region, where the church is located, had 1,126 active novel coronavirus cases Saturday — 1,885 people have recovered since the virus reached the province, while 56 have died.

As of Saturday, 76 were in hospital.

Steinbach as recently as two weeks ago, had a test positivity rate of 40 per cent.

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The Steinbach RCMP detachment doesn’t necessarily plan to ticket attendees widely but says even drive-in services aren’t allowed.

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“The directions from the public health order, is basically any large gatherings being in the church, even in the vehicle, the province doesn’t want people getting together right now in such large numbers because we don’t want this virus to spread,” Paul Manaigre said.

“People need to get the message. We’ve all see on Facebook some of these health staff in Steinbach — they’ve made it quite clear their hospitals are full and we are asking people that we can help them out. These people need breaks. It’s frustrating. I understand people want to get out and do their regular business as far as church business but the health-care staff in Steinbach and everywhere else are getting burned out.”

Winnipeg police were also on scene at Springs Church as the church held a drive-in service in defiance of public health orders.

A Global News reporter on scene saw the parking lot full of cars at the 595 Lagimodiere Ave. church.

In a pre-packaged promotional video played at Sunday’s service, senior pastor Leon Fontaine spoke to a crowd in their cars.

“People are worried that we are meeting like this and it’s not safe. I’ve got news for you: this is absolutely safe and getting together is crucial,” he said.

Transcona city councillor Shawn Nason, who represents the church’s area, said he was disappointed to hear the church was hosting a service.

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“This is the largest church in the city of Winnipeg and they are basically saying they know better. It’s unfortunate but the emergency services officials have to look at this and look at it closely and do what they need to do to make sure there’s compliance in this matter,” he said.

“I do know that they have a strong social media presence, they stream their services so I’m very unclear why they need to sidestep the spirit and intent as the province has indicated for this gathering that they aren’t to gather in person.”

Nason says he understands why people want to meet but warns they shouldn’t.

“It’s challenging because people want to be together and they want to be with their fellow parishioners but they’ve been clear – now isn’t the time, we need to stamp this out,” he said.

“It’s troubling that we can’t just pause for two weeks or three weeks or four weeks or however long it takes to get this under control.”

A spokesperson from the province did not say if any tickets were handed out at Springs Church, but an enforcement update is expected on Tuesday.

Global News was asked to leave the Springs Church property and didn’t get a comment from officials about the service after an additional request over email.

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-With files from Skylar Peters.