Alberta Health Services has ordered an Edmonton-area church to immediately begin following public health rules and guidelines after an inspection found it likely exceeded its capacity limit and many people in the building were unmasked while not social distancing.
An order issued by AHS on Dec. 17 directs Grace Life Church of Edmonton, located just outside the city limits on Highway 627 in Parkland County, to “immediately” ensure people in the church are wearing face coverings when in the building, ensure members of different households keep at least two metres apart, provide AHS with information about the building’s capacity and to not exceed the limit of 15 per cent of total capacity at any one time.
Requiring people to wear face coverings in indoor public space and telling places of worship to limit their capacity are among the measures Alberta has brought in to try and bring its number of COVID-19 cases under control.
The AHS order regarding Grace Life Church notes some churchgoers, performers, staff and volunteers were not masked at the time of a recent inspection.
“In the auditorium, it appeared members of different households were not distanced at least two metres apart,” the AHS order says.
“The rows in the auditorium were mostly full, with people sitting side by side and with the rows of seats themselves not distanced two metres from each other.”
AHS noted nobody appeared to be tracking how many people were entering the church in order to comply with a provincial order that churches not exceed 15 per cent of their building’s capacity.
Global News has reached out to Grace Life Church for comment on the order.
Parkland RCMP confirmed that a $1,200 ticket was issued to the pastor of Grace Life Church on Sunday, Dec. 20 on behalf of AHS.
Const. Shelley Nasheim said RCMP issued the ticket at AHS’ request. The $1,200 ticket was issued under Section 73.1 of the Public Health Act: an individual contravening the order of the medical officer of health.
Alberta’s chief medical officer of health was asked about the order at a news conference in Edmonton on Monday. Dr. Deena Hinshaw said health officials have worked hard to collaborate with faith leaders in the province to allow them to continue their services safely.
“And I will say that the majority of faith leaders have been incredibly hard working, have been demonstrating leadership and caring for their communities and in making sure that their communities have accurate information,” Hinshaw said.
“I think that we have opportunities to continue to engage and build that relationship and try to continue to build bridges.
“But ultimately, when any group is putting their communities at risk, we, of course, start with education. We start with offering support. That’s always how the public health teams begin engagement.
“But if groups continue to make decisions that put their communities at risk — not just those who may attend those services or who attend a particular event or gathering, but those actions put their broader community at risk — then unfortunately, sometimes it does need to move into an enforcement category.”
Hinshaw added that she believes the COVID-19 pandemic “has given us an opportunity to make choices about how we care for each other.”
“And the measures in place right now are the best way to care for our neighbours and for our communities,” she said.
On Monday, Hinshaw said Alberta has recorded 1,240 new COVID-19 cases and nine more deaths have been linked to the disease.
As of Monday afternoon, 795 people in Alberta were in hospital with COVID-19, 151 are in intensive care units.
Watch below: Some Global News videos about the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on churches in Alberta.