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Decision on Winnipeg church’s fight for drive-in religious services on hold

Click to play video 'Springs Church heads to court' Springs Church heads to court
Springs Church heads to court – Dec 3, 2020

A Winnipeg church will have to wait until Saturday to continue its fight against public health orders that ban drive-in religious services.

Springs Church is seeking an interim stay of the province’s current order, which requires places of worship to be closed to the public.

The health order, which is only in place until Dec. 11, allows religious leaders to hold services and livestream them, but doesn’t allow drive-in services.

Read more: Springs Church files court challenge over public health orders banning drive-in services

On Thursday, Justice Glenn Joyal decided to allow both sides more time to prepare their arguments.

He said he believed the matter was urgent and warranted a rare weekend sitting of the court to make a decision.

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Lawyers for the church are asking the court either for a declaration that “church in our cars” be deemed the same as a remote service under the order, or to allow the church an exemption from the order, allowing services to continue.

Last weekend, the church held four separate drive-in services in its parking lot, tallying up more than $32,000 in fines.

Springs Church has repeatedly declined Global News’ interview requests but on Wednesday, pastor Leon Fontaine posted an online video statement and said he has personally been fined at least four times.

Click to play video 'Why drive-in church isn’t allowed in Manitoba' Why drive-in church isn’t allowed in Manitoba
Why drive-in church isn’t allowed in Manitoba – Nov 30, 2020

“We have to ask ourselves why the government has deemed it unsafe for Manitobans to drive to their place of worship with their windows rolled up for the entirety of a service and practise their faith,” Fontaine said in the video.

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Springs is not the only church that has been fined under the latest coronavirus health orders.

The Church of God Restoration, outside of Steinbach, has been hit with two $5,000 tickets and six people were have been handed individual tickets of $1,296.

The church held an in-person service on Nov. 21 and tried to hold a large a large, drive-in service last Sunday. Hundreds of people were blocked by RCMP officers, which led to dozens of cars lining the highway trying to get into the church’s parking lot.

Read more: Why drive-in church isn’t allowed in Manitoba

During Thursday’s court proceedings, the church’s lawyer made comments to try to distinguish the members of Springs Church from the church outside Steinbach.

“This is a church, which is not anti-maskers, not COVID disbelievers — they are people who sympathize with the situation the province finds itself in and they have no connection whatsoever, or no association with any of the organizations in Steinbach which take views which are very contrary to those of the applicant,” lawyer Kevin Williams told the court.

Any ruling in this case would only apply to the applicant, Springs Church. If it does win and get an exemption or a stay, it would not allow other churches the same right.

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However, it would open the door to others who may try to take the same approach with the courts.

The issue of whether the public health order violates any Charter rights will not be heard this weekend.

Joyal said the Charter argument will take longer to address and that its ultimate adjudication would not be addressed this weekend.

“We are not in any definitive way determining those constitutional questions today or whenever the interim question of the stay is decided,” Joyal said.