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‘It’s a worship protest rally’: Loophole found for outdoor religious services in Kelowna

Click to play video: 'Loophole found for outdoor religious services in Kelowna' Loophole found for outdoor religious services in Kelowna
A large and growing gathering with live music is drawing attention in downtown Kelowna every Sunday. Jules Knox reports on the concerns, and why authorities may be reluctant to crack down on the crowd. – May 23, 2021

Kelowna’s Kerry Park is drawing a growing congregation of people listening to music, worship and speeches every Sunday, but there are questions over whether the crowd is allowed.

“It’s getting a bit much,” Jack Lennox said of the crowd of hundreds of people.

“I’m very against that. It’s very selfish for that many people not to realize the situation they’re causing other people,” Lorna Lennox added.

According to provincial health orders, outdoor religious services can be held, and up to 50 people may attend.

Read more: Group takes B.C. government to court over COVID-19 ban on in-person church services

However, approximately 400 people attended the service.

But the B.C. Supreme Court recently ruled that the government can’t ban outdoor protests because it’s an infringement of rights.

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Heather Lucier, the pastor for Harvest Ministries, said the gathering is a worship protest rally.

“This isn’t necessarily what we do in church, so it’s not a worship service,” she said. “What we’re doing is incorporating worship into our protest.”

Read more: B.C. public health rules discriminate against churches, lawyer argues

“Basically, we’re protesting the closing of the churches, but we’re also standing up for the freedoms in Canada that we feel are being breached right now,” she added.

The church is no stranger to controversy.

It’s already facing more than $10,000 in COVID-related fines for continuing to hold in-person gatherings.

Read more: Coronavirus: Kelowna, B.C., church handed second violation ticket for defying mass gathering order

“I think we’re at about five fines right now,” Lucier said. “The last one we received last Wednesday, and we are in court for all of them.”

In an email, the City of Kelowna noted the recent B.C. Supreme Court decision.

Read more: Coronavirus: Kelowna anti-lockdown organizer slapped with $2,300 fine

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It also said bylaw officers have no authority to uphold public health orders.

“Their role is only to ‘educate’ and attempt to get voluntary compliance. When they are unable to do so and non-compliance persists, they can escalate to Interior Health, police, WorkSafeBC, etc.,” spokesperson Tom Wilson said in an email.

“Police are the primary agency monitoring and ensuring public safety,” he added.

RCMP did not respond to a request for comment.

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