Police in Calgary, Canada arrested the pastor of the Fairview Baptist Church in southeast Calgary on Sunday for organizing a worship service that did not comply with public health orders, including masking, physical distancing, and attendance limits.
CBC News reports Pastor Tim Stephens is just one of a number of people arrested and/or charged over the past few weeks in the province of Alberta after the Canadian government opted to increase enforcement early this month against COVID-19 rule-breakers, targeting individuals, organizations, and businesses that have spurned public health orders — especially repeat offenders.
The crackdown by Canadian law enforcement comes after the province has had the country's highest number of COVID cases for weeks.
— Calgary Police (@CalgaryPolice) May 16, 2021
In a statement, the police department noted officers did not enter the church building during Sunday's service.
One week prior to his arrest, Stephens had been served a copy of the Court of Queen's Bench Order secured by Alberta Health Services (AHS).
"The pastor acknowledged the injunction, but chose to move forward with today's service, ignoring requirements for social distancing, mask-wearing and reduced capacity limits for attendees," police said.
Police said for several weeks, AHS has attempted to work with leadership at Fairview Baptist Church to address the ongoing public health concerns at the site. They say Stephens' arrest was the last resort.
"We continue to ask those who may be considering organizing or participating in any outdoor events to ensure they are familiar with public health order requirements and to do their part to prevent further spread of the virus," police said.
Stephens has previously been fined and ticketed for defying public health regulations by holding over-capacity gatherings and not enforcing mask use, according to CBC News.
Churches in Alberta have been limited to a maximum occupancy of 15 people in order to slow the spread of the virus.
"Restricting the church to 15 people — which essentially restricts the church from gathering — is against the will of Christ and against the conscience of many who desire to worship the Lord of glory according to his word," Stephens wrote in a blog post to the church's website following the updated restrictions earlier this month. He added that he planned to continue to meet despite public safety laws.
The pastor also wrote in a blog post that his church has seen no COVID-19 cases.
"By God's grace, our church has not had a single transmission of COVID19 in a year of gathering together weekly. We have encouraged those who are sick to stay home and for everyone to be proactive with their health to combat sicknesses we will inevitably encounter," Stephens wrote.
In a video posted to YouTube on May 9, Stephens took a few minutes before his sermon to explain why his congregation gathers for worship even when it is outlawed by the governing authorities.
Many Canadian churches like their counterparts in the U.S. have moved their worship services online during the current pandemic.
Stephens is one of several Canadian pastors who have recently been arrested. As CBN News reported earlier this month, Canadian Pastor Artur Pawlowski was arrested for allegedly holding a church service that violated new public health orders pertaining to gatherings.
Pawlowski and his brother Dawid were accused of organizing and attending an in-person gathering earlier that day, Calgary Police said.