Calgary police investigating church again for violating public health orders

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Calgary church facing fines for possible public health order violations
WATCH ABOVE: A place of worship in Calgary is in hot water again for possibly violating public health orders related to COVID-19 restrictions. Jackie Wilson has the story. – Jan 10, 2021

Fairview Baptist Church in southeast Calgary may be in trouble again for violating numerous public health orders relating to COVID-19 restrictions.

A handful of police and peace officers were seen at the church Sunday, which held an 11 a.m. service.

There were over 20 vehicles in the parking lot at the time of the service.

Alberta Health Services (AHS) issued an executive order to the church and Senior Pastor Tim Stephens on Jan. 5.

AHS cited seven violations in its inspection:

  • Most of the church attendees were unmasked. Of the two services observed, only two of approximately 75 attendees were wearing masks.
  • There was no cleaning and disinfection of high touch areas between services.
  • The pastor and all of the church staff/volunteers observed were unmasked.
  • Between services, the two groups were gathered in the stairwell unmasked and not social distancing at least two meters apart.
  • In the auditorium, members of different households were not distanced at least two meters apart. The rows in the auditorium were full, with people sitting side by side and with the rows of seats themselves not distanced two meters from each other.
  • The pastor was asked about the attendance at the service and was unable to provide an accurate number with how many people were present in the building, and stated he did not know the maximum capacity currently allowed as per CMOH Order 42-2020. There did not appear to be anyone on-site counting or overseeing the numbers of attendees coming into the building and therefore, maximum capacity may have been exceeded. Calgary Bylaw Services were on-site and counted approximately 36 attendees during the first service and video evidence of the second service shows approximately 40 attendees.
  • There was no COVID-19-related signage posted to instruct those who may have been exposed to COVID-19 not to enter, for social distancing, or masking.
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The church was fined $1,200 and changes were required to be made by Jan. 8.

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After the service on Jan. 10, churchgoers could be seen leaving with and without masks.

Stephens allowed AHS and Calgary police into the building after the attendees were gone.

Stephens declined a full interview, but told Global News as of 2:30 p.m. Sunday he hadn’t been fined for potentially violating restrictions for a second time.

Global News reached out to Stephens again Monday but he would not say whether more fines or penalties were handed out after Sunday’s investigation.

AHS said it was not granted entry for re-inspection of Fairview Baptist Church on Jan. 10 prior to services occurring, but AHS Environmental Public Health noted evidence that the facility was not in compliance with the work order issued Jan. 4. AHS is considering next steps.

A spokesperson with the Calgary Police Service said it was called to assist AHS and bylaw, who were “in attendance to make entry into the church to enforce a previous order that had been granted due to non-compliance.

“CPS mediated the situation and eventually toured the facility with AHS. No summonses were issued by CPS,” Leah Brownridge said Monday.

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Faith services are permitted to operate under the current public health restrictions, but are limited to 15 per cent of fire code occupancy.

Stephens said he wasn’t sure of the church’s maximum capacity.

“They [AHS] told me a number last week, but I asked to get that from them and they didn’t get back to me,” Stephens said.

An AHS spokesperson would not disclose if a charge, fine or closure order had been issued for Sunday’s service violations.

Community reaction

Fairview Community Association board of directors president Regan Klyn wrote a letter to Stephens Sunday expressing his disappointment.

“The Fairview Community Association’s would like to express our board’s disappointment in recent actions by the Fairview Baptist Church leadership and members, which demonstrate ongoing disregard for community safety,” Klyn wrote.

“Learning that your church was recently flagged and fined by Alberta Health Services was distressing and showed a lack of care for the health and well-being of Fairview residents and the general public.”

Klyn added the church’s “purposeful disrespect” of COVID-19 restrictions has been frustrating for Fairview residents and “does not convey a message in keeping with the spirit of our community.”

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“We are hopeful going forward your church will do what is necessary to minimize risk and to role model behaviour and choices that will protect our community,” Klyn wrote.

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