Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers prevented a church from holding a drive-in worship service by blocking the entrance with their squad cars.
The Church of God Steinbach in rural Manitoba shared a video on Facebook Sunday showing police cars lined up along the roadside in an effort to prevent anyone from entering the church's parking lot.
The church was fined $5,000 the week prior for holding an indoor worship service despite restrictions due to the coronavirus. Senior Pastor Henry Hildebrandt asked why the government has banned worship services but is permitting "liquor, cannabis, and department stores" to stay open.
"This principle is not just about in-person services. This is a wholesale attack on faith and the freedom of the church to do its God-called duty," Pastor Hildebrandt declared.
Church on Highway 12 at the RCMP barricade pic.twitter.com/XCKrvI0waV
— Pastor Henry Hildebrandt (@aylmerpastor) November 29, 2020
The pastor called efforts by police, a "fear-mongering tactic," adding that churches have the right and freedom to assemble.
"Yesterday evening, the Manitoba government deemed drive-in services to be illegal," the church wrote on Facebook. "This worship service will be held in protest of these tyrannical edicts. Make no mistake, this is not about a virus."
"God has given us the right to worship Him together and He wants to see His people united," the pastor said. "It seems like we're living in a different Canada. It's very heartbreaking to me."
Last month, British Columbia's Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry suspended all in-person religious gatherings in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Henry's decision was met with immediate criticism, including from Catholic Archbishop of Vancouver J. Michael Miller, who called the move "puzzling," noting parishes have not seen substantial viral spread.
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A Bold Breach of Provincial Orders
And one Canadian reporter apparently camped out at a church in British Columbia over the weekend to count how many people went to a worship service - a "bold breach" of provincial orders.
CBC News' Georgie Smyth announced she counted "more than 60 people inside this church in Chilliwack," a development she described as "a bold breach of provincial health orders to suspend gatherings due to record high Covid cases."
In a letter shared last week, Hildebrandt stressed that while "the Bible teaches Christians to be good citizens and obey the reasonable demands of our government," however, it does not "teach blind obedience to the authorities when onerous restrictions are placed on our freedoms."
Steinbach RCMP Releases a Statement
CBN News contacted the Steinback RCMP for comment and in an emailed statement, they responded that they did not block church services:
"Church services are fully able to take place virtually, according to Public Health Orders, so that people are not congregating in one place creating the potential for spread of COVID-19.
Steinbach RCMP were aware of the intentions of the Church of God to hold services on the morning of November 29, 2020, that would violate current Province of Manitoba Public Health Orders. We sent out a notice on November 27, 2020, to advise people what those orders entail in the hope they would not gather. However, parishioners attended the church on the morning of November 29.
Steinbach RCMP had officers and members of the Divisional Liaison Team on scene who met and spoke with the numerous parishioners who attended to the church. They were advised of the current Public Health Orders in place and were given the option of entering the property in violation of those orders and being fined or the option of returning home. Most of the parishioners, but one, understood the message and returned home. The one adult male stated he wished to continue on and was given a $1296 fine. Approximately 125 people were spoken to and returned home. The investigation is continuing and more tickets are possible.
Violating Public Health Orders is an offence. These orders are in place for everyone's safety. All citizens of Manitoba are directed not to congregate, and those directions supersede all other acts at this time. Please stay safe and stay home. As for future church services, we truly hope that everyone abides by the health orders that are in place for the safety of all. If they do not abide, they are subject to the applicable fines."
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly labeled Dr. Bonnie Henry as Canada's Provincial Health Officer when she only serves in that position for one province, British Columbia.