An Aylmer church that has been adamantly against the province’s COVID-19 protocols has been issued a cease and desist letter.
The Ministry of the Attorney General issued the letter to the Church of God and its officials, ordering them to stop holding indoor gatherings of more than 10 people.
Officers with Aylmer police delivered the order to the church’s pastor Thursday morning, days after the church held another gathering that disobeyed provincial guidelines.
“The letter is requesting that they follow the emergency orders that are currently in place,” said deputy chief Nick Novacich, adding that the letter clearly outlines what is allowed.
The Reopening Ontario Act limits indoor and outdoor religious services to 10 people, but as Novacich says, drive-in services are allowed under certain conditions. He says the letter is very clear about parishioners not entering the building, something that has become a trend at the John Street church as of late.
“It’s not saying they can’t have church service, it just asks them to comply with emergency orders and have the drive-in services,” Novacich said.
“The last couple of weeks they chose to get out of their cars, last week was strictly an indoor service, no masking, no social distancing, so that is what brought this forward.”
Last week, Aylmer’s police chief Zvonko Horvat had strict words for members of the church, asking them to “lead by example” and abide by the province’s pandemic orders.
“Everyone is feeling the frustration the longer this pandemic goes on,” Novacich said. “Our role throughout this whole pandemic is to ensure the safety of all of our community members.”
Under Ontario’s state of emergency and stay-at-home order, declared Jan. 12 and in place until at least Feb. 9, indoor gatherings and activities are banned, while outdoor organized public events and gatherings are limited to five people and must comply with physical distancing and face-covering requirements.
Novacich admits there is a split among community members about who is in the right.
“The community is kind of divided in how the church has been conducting their services,” Novacich said, adding that his officers often take a brunt of the criticism.
“They take a lot of backlash, and they’ll get surrounded a lot of times when they’re trying to do their jobs and issue these tickets. We’re just working within the confines of the legislation in place right now.”
Pastor Henry Hildebrandt is already facing charges under the Reopening Ontario Act in connection with a church service held on Dec. 27 and a gathering on Jan. 6, as well as a charge for attending a large rally in London in November that was held in opposition to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.
His son, Herbert, 37, is also facing charges of his own, but of a criminal nature, including assault relating to an incident involving Malahide Township Coun. Jack Dykxhoorn, 84, in mid-December, and obstructing and intimidating a police officer following an incident outside of the Church of God on Dec. 27.