Police in Aylmer, Ont., say 47 people have been identified so far in connection with a gathering at Church of God on Jan. 24 that far exceeded limits in place as part of the province’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
The gathering began outdoors but ended with a maskless crowd singing inside the church. It was also the latest in a string of incidents involving allegations of emergency order violations against the church and its pastor, Henry Hildebrandt.
On Wednesday, police said officers are in the process of serving tickets to 29 individuals. Another 18 summons are being processed for people who live outside of Elgin County and for those responsible for organizing and hosting the event, police say.
Police tell Global News that 16 of the individuals were from out of town and there is a possibility of further charges as police continue their identification efforts.
“Community safety and well being and enforcement of laws is a top priority for Aylmer Police Service during this global pandemic,” said Chief Zvonko Horvat.
“We are asking citizens, businesses and faith-based groups to be part of the solution and not a problem by abiding by the current restrictions to protect our community. Collectively we can enhance the safety of our community, citizens and family members.”
The government of Ontario declared a state of emergency and imposed a stay-at-home order on Jan. 12, which includes a ban on 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.
In a statement on Monday that did not directly name Hildebrandt but referenced “the Church of God pastor,” police said that they will be seeking input from Southwestern Public Health to “develop further mitigating strategies specific to this group.”
During a media briefing on Wednesday, SWPH was asked to comment on collaboration with police.
“We do work regularly with our enforcement partners, with meetings from time to time, to consider how we can work effectively together and our public health inspectors do work with other enforcement officers in other organizations,” said medical officer of health Dr. Joyce Lock.
“In this particular case, we have been working with the enforcement agencies in Aylmer to support them with information about the risks related to breaching the orders of the province of Ontario and to provide them with the information as to the impacts to their community when these orders are breached.”
Police previously issued charges under the Reopening Ontario Act in connection with a church service at the Church of God on Dec. 27 and in connection with a Jan. 6 gathering outside of the church.
Hildebrandt was also charged in connection with his attendance at a large rally in London in November that was held in opposition to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.View link »