A Toronto police spokesperson tells Global News the service is reviewing a video posted on Facebook that appears to show two of its officers engaged in a verbal dispute with police in Aylmer, Ont., after officers in the town charged them and two others for violating COVID-19 orders at a church.
According to a news release issued by Aylmer police on Thursday, officers received a complaint about a large gathering at the Church of God Restoration at around 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday.
“While the officers were dealing with two individuals on the parking lot, a group of 18 persons were observed exiting the church building,” the statement said, adding there were several vehicles in the parking lot at the time.
“It was noticed that none of the individuals were wearing masks or social distancing.”
The release, which didn’t identify anyone by name, said a man from North York, a woman from Scarborough and two men from Aylmer were charged with violating the Reopening Ontario Act. The statement added the investigation was still ongoing and more charges could potentially be laid. Officials in Aylmer confirm two of those charged were officers in Toronto.
However, a nearly four-minute video posted on Facebook by independent Lanark-Frontenac-Kingston MPP Randy Hillier on Thursday appeared to show part of the exchange outside of the church.
“Watch this video of police officers being charged for exercising their Charter rights,” the Facebook post said, including the hashtags #NoMoreLockdowns #WeMustResist #WeAreLivingALie.
“You won’t hear this in the news, but two officers attending a meeting in the Aylmer Church of God and practicing their right to assembly have been charged under the Reopening Ontario Act.”
The beginning of the video shows a man in plain clothes without a mask speaking with a uniformed officer who was wearing a mask.
“You’re harassing people,” the man could be heard telling the officer.
“Did you swear an oath to the Charter like I did?”
The officer could be heard saying he was enforcing the order and went on to wave his hand to the man before stepping back slightly.
“Yeah, exactly,” the man said before the officer replied, telling the man to leave.
A woman, who also wasn’t wearing a mask, could be heard telling another officer that they were entering private property.
“Court is the venue to deal with it, court is the venue to deal with it,” the first officer told the group.
“You know what, you’re on a church parking lot. How do you sleep at night, well?” she said, going on to tell him she’s been an officer for more than 20 years.
“I would never, never, ever put on a uniform and behave the way you do in a place of religion and talk to people the way you two do.”
She told the second officer she expected her to be professional, accusing her of going “from zero to 100.”
“When you’ve got to go to authority first in an autocratic way, your gift of communication sucks — sorry to tell you that,” the woman said.
The first officers came back to say they identified themselves as officers and accused them of breaking the law. Group members began speaking loudly at the officers, referencing the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
“I can’t wait to speak with your chief,” the woman could be heard saying.
“I can’t wait, either,” the first officer said.
Before the video ends, the woman accused the officers of being unlawfully placed, not having a search warrant, entering a private property as she and others demanded to know the officer’s name. The officer couldn’t be heard identifying himself before walking away and going into his vehicle and driving toward the other officer’s vehicle.
The gathering at the church was the latest in a series of incidents at the property.
In February, the church held a drive-in service after receiving an interim order from the Superior Court “restraining the respondents from directly or indirectly contravening Ontario Regulation 82/20, by holding gatherings of more than 10 persons at, inside, or in conjunction with the operations of the Church.”
In late January, the church held an indoor, in-person service resulting in provincial charges against two men associated with the church.
Earlier that month, a video posted on YouTube appeared to show roughly 100 people standing in the pews inside the church with Pastor Henry Hildebrandt heard on video saying, “We’re not having service, we’re just touring.” Days later, police reported that officers were in the process of issuing tickets.
When asked for his reaction to the interaction, Aylmer Police Chief Zvonko Horvat issued a brief statement in response.
“I cannot comment on personal opinions or actions of individuals regardless of their profession. Their behaviour and action added to the stress of already difficult situation for the officers,” he wrote Thursday evening.
“Single actions of certain individuals in no way diminish the relationship between Aylmer Police And Toronto Police Service.”
While the Toronto police spokesperson confirmed the service was aware of the video and it was being reviewed, they didn’t say what, if any, action has been, or might be, taken.
Under Ontario’s current state of emergency and stay-at-home orders, gatherings of people who don’t live in the same household either indoors or outdoors are banned. The only exception is if someone lives alone and is joining one other household.
However, under the province’s regulations, religious services, weddings and funerals are capped at 10 people both indoors and outdoors. Attendees are required to wear face masks or coverings (unless there’s a medical exemption) as well as stay at least two metres apart.
Enforcement officers have the authority under the regulation to break up gatherings and order the temporary closure of the facility. If convicted, attendees could be fined $750 and organizers could be fined a minimum of $10,000.
— With files from Jacquelyn LeBel