Defiant Church of God in Aylmer, Ont., moves large service outdoors after judge ordered church shut
Aylmer police said charges are pending following service
While the doors of the Church of God in Aylmer, Ont., were locked following an Ontario Superior Court Justice order, parishioners still gathered outside the church on Sunday for an in-person service and continued to defy emergency orders.
In a live videostream posted to YouTube, dozens of churchgoers could be seen side-by-side without wearing face masks. Aylmer Police Chief Zvonko Horvat said anywhere between 200 to 250 people attended the service.
Under the provincewide shutdown, both outdoor and indoor religious services are capped at 10 people with physical distancing measures in place.
The church was ordered locked Friday morning by a judge who also fined the church, along with its pastor Henry Hildebrandt and assistant pastor Peter Wall. The move came after finding them in contempt of court for breaching an order that required them to follow Ontario's pandemic measures.
In recent weeks, upwards of 200 people have been inside the church for services at one time, defying physical distancing rules and not wearing masks.
The church and the two pastors are now facing $117,000 in fines and legal fees.
Despite that, the church went on with its regular service Sunday, but moved it to a large field adjacent to the parking lot.
"Behind me are the locked doors that somebody thought they had the authority to lock," Hildebrandt said during his sermon. "And we are here because we have the authority of God on our side."
Police gathered evidence that will be submitted to the court, Horvat said, adding more charges are expected under the Reopening Ontario Act.
"We're doing everything that is within our power to shut [Hildebrandt] down," he said.
"We are working with the Attorney General's office on that particular topic and with their assistance and the court processes. That's what our options are and that's what we're going to continue to pursue."
"It's not a simple matter of just going in and removing everybody," Horvat added.
During his closing remarks Sunday, Hildebrandt told churchgoers he'd see them next Sunday.
The church's doors will remain locked until the provincial gathering limit for indoor church services is increased to 30 per cent capacity, or more.
In his decision on Friday, Ontario Superior Court Justice Bruce Thomas said he hoped his ruling would be an example for the church and others who are considering breaking Ontario laws.