Calgary pastor Tim Stephens of Fairview Baptist Church was arrested after Sunday services for violating a Court of Queen’s Bench Order, meaning he allegedly contravened COVID-19 health restrictions.
Police said Stephens organized church services that allegedly did not comply with public health orders, including masking, physical distancing and attendance limits.
‘There are tears’
Officers said they did not go inside the church, located at 230 78 Ave. S.E., during the services.
Stephens went with police after 3 p.m. as a group of people watched.
“There are tears. There are frustrations. There’s an upset,” said Alex Russell with Fairview Baptist Church.
“Ultimately, what has motivated that cause is obedience to Christ, and so we obey Him first before others that we respect.”
In the meantime, Russell plans to take over for Stephens.
The Calgary Police Service and Alberta Health Services issued a joint news release saying that police have received “repeated calls from concerned citizens” about Fairview Baptist Church over the past several weeks.
“Last weekend, pastor Stephens was proactively served a copy of the Court of Queen’s Bench Order obtained by AHS,” the release said.
“The pastor acknowledged the injunction but chose to move forward with today’s service, ignoring requirements for social distancing, mask-wearing and reduced capacity limits for attendees.”
AHS has tried to work with leaders at Fairview Baptist Church to address health concerns, the news release said.
“It is only when significant risk is identified or continued non-compliance is noted that AHS resorts to enforcement action,” it said.
“AHS strongly encourages all Albertans to follow public health orders to help minimize spread and protect others.”
Police added that while they recognize the desire to go to faith-based gatherings, people must comply with health orders to ensure everyone’s safety and well-being.
‘There’s no excuse’: councillor
Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra said he stands with the “overwhelming majority of Fairview residents who have been expressing dismay for weeks.”
“That’s the beautiful thing about the long arm of the law: it doesn’t maybe act immediately or swiftly, but it gets there,” he said Sunday.
“I’m glad that this gentleman has been arrested, and I hope that we throw the full extent of the laws we’re able to because there’s no excuse for putting lives in danger, especially if that excuse is some warped interpretation of the Christian faith.”
The people who are flouting the rules comprise a small fraction of the population, Carra said.
“For every one church that’s doing something like this and is in the media and seems front and centre, there are hundreds of faith communities that, out of respect for the innate wisdom of their particular faiths, are choosing courses of action that do not put their fellow people, their fellow humans, in danger during a global health pandemic,” he explained.