A Manitoba judge has ruled against a Winnipeg church’s application to hold drive-in church services, that are banned by current public health orders in place due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“The onus that an applicant must meet to obtain a stay of legislation is extremely high,” Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench Chief Justice Glenn Joyal said in his rare weekend ruling.
“I do not believe that the applicants meet their burden of showing that (they) will suffer irreparable harm if the injunction is not granted.”
Springs Church took the Manitoba government to court after being fined more than $32,000 for holding drive-in church services, that are currently barred under level red restrictions, which are set to expire on Dec. 11.
In court Saturday morning, lawyers for the church argued the services are safe, and are no different than sitting in a drive-thru lineup, waiting in your car for curbside pickup, or even sitting at a red light in traffic.
Lawyers for the province argued that the church has not provided evidence that listening to a church service in your car is more beneficial than listening to a church service online or at home. Springs Church is also streaming their services on YouTube and Facebook.
The province also argued that there was no legally defensible way to exempt Springs Church and not another religious organizations.
“I think the court is really afraid of triggering a cascade of cases,” University of Manitoba law professor Karen Busby told Global News.
“If church in cars case was successful, then we could potentially see special applications coming from other religious organizations — from retail operations, from restaurants — and the court would be swamped and the message that’s coming from the public health officials, which is stay home unless you absolutely have to go out, would be seriously undermined.”
Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench Chief Justice Glenn Joyal sided with the province’s argument and denied the church’s application.
The church has also argued that the public health order violates charter rights. A decision on that will be made at a later date. In court Saturday, Chief Justice Glenn Joyal was deciding only on whether or not Springs Church could be allowed to hold the drive-in services.
Springs Church posted on their website that all of their drive-in services will be cancelled this weekend and they will instead be gathering online.
One drive-in service had been planned for Saturday night with three more planned for Sunday morning.
Springs Church member Tim Sanderson said he was disappointed in the court’s ruling.
“From what I understand, we lost on pretty much every level of argument we made, and yeah, it couldn’t have gone any worse for us this morning,” he said.
“You can spend about the equivalent of a church service in Costco and you can physically get out of your car, so it seems to be a double standard there.”
— With files from the Canadian Press