Ontario Premier Doug Ford warned leaders of a church in Waterloo Region that they will face the “consequences” if they hold more services.
“Please don’t continue doing this. There will be consequences,” Ford said Monday as he urged the church leaders to lead by example.
On Sunday, two services were held at the Trinity Bible Chapel despite a court order which was filed on Friday in an attempt to prevent them from happening.
Ford was asked about Sunday’s services and chastised the leaders for hosting them, while nearly every other church in the province has followed the orders.
“I think it’s careless and irresponsible for them to host this, especially when we are in the situation we are in right now,” he said.
“I’d really encourage them not to do this. They aren’t being responsible. I discourage this 100 per cent.”
Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said “all options are on the table” with regards to the gatherings.
Waterloo Regional Police Chief Bryan Larkin says there will be a plan in place to prevent any more gatherings at the church.
“We will develop a plan to ensure and prevent any further services from happening,” Larkin said when pressed by reporters Monday morning.
In December, police issued summons to six church elders after services were held at the church in defiance of the Reopening Ontario Act.
Police officers were at the church on Lobsinger Line again on Jan. 3 with bylaw officers after complaints the church was over the established limits.
The region said nine charges were laid by its bylaw officers including six people and the church corporation itself for hosting the event. Two other people were charged for attending the gathering.
The church had moved to holding drive-in services but announced last week it would hold services inside on Sunday.
“On Friday, the attorney general was successful in having a court order, a court injunction imposed around restricting the opening of the church and requesting and demanding compliance with provincial legislation,” Larkin said.
He said on Sunday, regional bylaw officers attended to observe and that further charges will be forthcoming from the region.
A spokesperson for the region did not say whether or not charges will be laid.
“The Region of Waterloo is providing the Attorney General with information on yesterday’s activities,” TJ Flynn stated. “As the community is aware, the Attorney General obtained a Superior Court Order compelling Trinity Bible Chapel to comply with this Act and failure to comply with this Order can result in contempt proceedings before the Court.”
The chief was also asked why officers did not prevent or break up the service on Sunday, especially as to separate services were held.
“The actual court order did not have an enforcement mechanism, so there was no direct enforcement for the police service to take action,” Larkin explained.
“The Reopening Act of Ontario does have an enforcement component that allows the police service to disperse, but it doesn’t allow for us to prevent.”
He said there would also be health risks in having officers attend the service and issues with dispersing a crowd of between 300-600 people which included elderly and children.
“It’s just not as simple as going in into the bullhorn and dispersing individuals,” he said.
He believes they have a plan in place that will prevent any future gatherings.
“I feel very confident that to prevent any further gatherings and to ensure the community that all of the approaches we’ve been taking has been strategic, it’s been well planned, well co-ordinated,” he said.
“But we do intend to take action.”
Ontario legislator Randy Hillier, an independent MPP and vocal critic of the province’s lockdown measures, tweeted a photo yesterday that appeared to be from the service.
He also posted a photo that appeared to be of the outside of the church.
The government of Ontario declared a state of emergency and imposed a stay-at-home order on Jan. 12, banning indoor gatherings and activities including religious services.
Some religious services, such as weddings and funerals, are permitted provided they include no more than 10 people and physical distancing can be maintained.
The rules apply to the entire province and will remain in effect until at least Feb. 11.
*With files from Canadian Press