Some B.C. churches appear willing to risk sanctions by holding in-person services on Sunday, in violation of COVID-19 health orders.
Worshippers of multiple faiths faced disappointment this week, when the province rescinded a planned exemption to allow indoor group worship for various religious holidays due to surging COVID-19 case numbers.
Langley’s Riverside Calvary Chapel, which has been flouting the rules since November and has been fined by the RCMP, advertises a wait list for five in-person services scheduled on Easter Sunday.
Riverside is one of 11 B.C. churches listed on the Liberty Coalition Canada website as a part of the “We Will Gather” initiative, listing churches that plan to hold services Sunday in defiance of local COVID-19 health restrictions.
Coalition backers include expelled former Conservative MP Derek Sloan, People’s Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier and Ontario MPP Randy Hillier, who sparked outage this week by invoking Hitler in a critique of COVID-19 restrictions.
Victoria’s Capital City Baptist Church, another church on the list, declined an interview but confirmed to Global News that it, too, would hold an indoor service.
Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth expressed frustration that some churches planned to flout the rules, particularly given that the province recently approved outdoor religious gatherings.
“Most churches are doing the right thing, they’re holding services outside,” he said. “I think it’s irresponsible frankly, at this particular point in time when we’re seeing an increase in cases to be going against the health officer’s orders when there’s no need to.”
Farnworth added that churches who defy the order could face police enforcement or other penalties.
“They can levy tickets, which they’ve done, and has resulted in charges. And as we have seen in the court case that took place, the courts have ruled that the province was right — within its authority — to put in restrictions,” he said.
Riverside Cavalry was one of three B.C. churches involved in that court challenge, which sought to have the province’s restrictions found unconstitutional.
B.C. Supreme Court Justice Christopher Hinkson ruled that the order banning in-person religious gatherings did infringe on religious liberties, but that the infringement was reasonable.
The lawyer for the applicants says they’re now taking their challenge to the B.C. Court of Appeal.
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