A small church in Aylmer, Ontario had their drive-in service for a fourth week in a row yesterday, in a standoff that has pitted the pastor of the Church of God against the Provincial Government.
Despite the church having a drive-in service where no one leaves their cars and the windows remain rolled up, this action goes against Ontario’s draconian Emergency Act which prohibits more than 5 people from gathering for a religious service. The service, which the pastor describes as occurring on “the safest parking lot in Canada” has nevertheless drawn community complaints and police presence.
The police in Aylmer initially ordered the church to stop meeting, but Pastor Henry Hildebrandt blatantly chose to disregard the warning. As a result, law enforcement gathered video evidence of the service to determine who they would charge. “Just because the public didn’t see us handing out a ticket like at a speeding stop, people will be held accountable for what happened today,” said Insp. Nick Novacich of the Aylmer Police Service at the time.
The story drew in national interest, with more than a dozen federal members of parliament weighing in on the case and offering their support, even sending a signed letter to Premier Doug Ford urging him to reassure churchgoers that they won’t be charged.
This has resulted in the police backing down for the time being. They said that while they have reasonable and probable grounds to lay charges for violating the emergency order, they are choosing to “educate instead” after consulting with the local crown attorney, saying “this is a measured and least intrusive approach in dealing with this community issue.”
A police statement said they hoped not charging them for their April 26th service would convince church leadership not to go ahead with another gathering planned for Sunday May 3rd. “With this decision and education, we anticipate that the ‘Church of God’ organizers and parishioners will respect the emergency order in place to minimize the risk to their parishioners and community.”
The police believed this tactic would be effective in halting services now that church has a clearer understanding that “the gathering is in violation of the emergency order enacted to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”
The church did not yield and held their service anyway.
“I am not worried about them charging me. If they charge me, let the people who know how to handle that. Let it go through the courts, whatever it takes. I just know what we’re doing is right,” said Pastor Henry Hildebrandt.
“I’m not in for a fight against a person. I am very, very concerned that as a church we have let people down, we have not been what we needed to be and that’s why they call us non-essential. I’m not against any individual whatsoever, but we must rise to the occasion.”
When asked how long he planned on holding services in defiance of the law, Hildebrandt didn’t hesitate with an answer: “However long it takes.”
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