A small but controversial church in Ontario and its leaders are facing fines nearing $200,000 for continuing to hold worship services despite provincial stay-at-home orders.
The Church of God in Aylmer was slapped with $66,000 in new fines over the Memorial Day weekend for holding outdoor services weeks after a swarm of armed police officers interrupted a Sunday gathering, ordered congregants to leave the premises, and changed the locks on the building.
In April, Superior Court Justice Bruce Thomas ordered the conservative congregation to stop holding indoor worship services exceeding the limit of 10 people. When the judge found out the Church of God was violating his order, he fined them $100,000 and, on May 14, sent law enforcement officers to lock up the congregation’s facility, according to Global News.
When officers came into the sanctuary, the church members and Hildebrandt remained calm, even praying for the officers as they walked down the aisle toward the pulpit.
In the three weeks since the worship center was locked by police, Aylmer law enforcement have charged the church for gathering outdoors for religious services, which were live-streamed online.
Police believe the outdoor services have attracted some 400 attendees.
Crown attorney Lisa Brost said during a court hearing the church is escalating its defiance of government edicts by continuing to hold outdoor worship services, which she described as an “intentional” confrontation.
The church “deliberately did exactly what they knew they were not permitted to do,” Brost said, adding she believes the congregation should be barred from appealing having their facility locked until they fully repay all the outstanding fines against them.
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Lisa Bildy, the attorney representing the Church of God, condemned Ontario’s COVID-19 restrictions as “destructive to liberal democracy” and referenced a history between the Aylmer police chief and the church’s lead pastor, Henry Hildebrandt.
She said the “burden of all of this enforcement has fallen to the church without any evidence whatsoever that their continuing to meet has caused any outbreaks or illness, let alone death, over the last year.”
“Was there an order? Yes. Did the church have knowledge of it? Yes. Did they breach it? Yes,” she explained. “They met outside in open air rather than inside their church, but still that is a breach of these draconian and unprecedented restrictions imposed on the citizens of Ontario.”
Bildly added she believes the fines are “oppressive” and argued it’s “unduly punitive” to stop the small church from appealing the locks placed on their facility.
The judge stood his ground, though, rebuking the church — which appears to be opposed to the COVID-19 vaccines — for its “continued, brazen, self-promoting acts of breach.”
Thomas added additional fines of $35,000 for the church; $20,000 for Hildebrandt; $6,000 for assistant pastor Peter Wall; and $5,000 for legal costs.
Hildebrandt, for his part, has maintained a rosy outlook.
“A revival has begun,” he asserted in a video posted this week. “An awakening is taking place, and God is using these things to kick out lukewarm Christianity. … In the book of Revelation, it mentions, first, God wishes that we were rather could or hot, but not in between. And that is what God is accomplishing.”
“No wonder the Bible says, ‘Do not stop gathering, do not stop gathering,’” the pastor continued, referring to Hebrews 10:25 in the New Testament. “And we all realize right now we’re living a lie. What we’re being told, what is being advertised there by Dr. [Anthony] Fauci and others who are in big trouble — and we will hear more about that later — but how could we follow those people? We need to follow the Word of God, and we’re doing that.”
Legally, the church is permitted to appeal to the court to have the locks removed from its building. However, Thomas said this week the court “will take into account the fact that fines may or may not be paid in any subsequent application.”