Alberta Health Services has physically closed Fairview Baptist Church in Calgary and prevented access to the building, citing repeated violations of COVID-19 public health measures.
According to a news release on Saturday morning, the action was taken against the southeast Calgary church after its lead pastor Tim Stephens “continued to disregard public health measures required by law under order of the chief medical officer of health.”
AHS said the closure order will remain in place until the church’s pastor complies with public health restrictions.
Stephens issued a statement to Global News on Saturday afternoon.
“Early this morning, AHS seized our church building by changing the locks to prevent us from entering the premises,” he said.
“In the same week where our most senior government officials were photographed flouting health orders, AHS continues to try and force us to comply with orders that violate the commands of our Lord and undermine the fundamental freedoms afforded to all Canadians.”
They can take the building but they cannot take the church, Stephens said.
“Fines, injunctions, imprisonments and seizure of property will only demonstrate the folly of their actions and bring glory to Christ,” he said.
Under the Stage 1 reopening plan, the province has limited faith service attendance to 15 per cent of fire code occupancy with mandatory physical distancing and mask use.
Officials with AHS said they’ve attempted to work with Stephens since December 2020 to address public health concerns with worship services during the pandemic.
According to AHS, its environmental public health department has received 57 complaints regarding Fairview Baptist Church for services that exceeded capacity limits with minimal to no masking or physical distancing.
Stephens was arrested on May 9 for allegedly organizing a church service that police said did not comply with public health orders.
He was released two days later but AHS withdrew its application against Stephens due to an issue of mistaken identity when the injunction was served.
“There are tears, there is frustration, there’s an upset,” Alex Russell with Fairview Baptist Church told Global News following Stephens’ arrest in May. “Ultimately, what has motivated that cause is an obedience to Christ, and so we obey him first before others that we respect.”
An injunction obtained by AHS on May 6 mandated that event organizers comply with public health restrictions, including masking, physical distancing and attendance limits.
AHS ordered the church to close on May 17, but added that “none of the enforcement actions taken by either AHS or (Calgary Police Service) to date have succeeded in gaining compliance.”
AHS said it is working closely with CPS, but cannot issue tickets or fines for public health violations, which are under the jurisdiction of local law enforcement.
“AHS recognizes that the vast majority of places of worship are compliant with required public health measures for the protection of not only those who attend services but for the protection of their families, friends and communities,” the news release said.
– With files from Global News’ Kaylen Small and The Canadian Press