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2 politicians among Aylmer, Ont., church-goers charged for defying pandemic rules

Politicians Derek Sloan and Randy Hillier are among several people charged for attending a large service in Aylmer, Ont., at the Church of God Restoration in defiance of COVID-19 lockdown restrictions. 

Police says they're trying to target those responsible for organizing Church of God Restoration service Sunday

MPP Randy Hillier, left, and MP Derek Sloan flank Church of God Restoration pastor Henry Hildebrandt after a church service on Sunday. The two politicians were among those charged for defying Ontario's pandemic rules. (Facebook.com/ontariocog)

Two politicians are among several people charged for attending a large service in Aylmer, Ont., at the Church of God Restoration in defiance of COVID-19 lockdown restrictions. 

MP Derek Sloan and MPP Randy Hillier, who both represent Kingston-area ridings as Independents, are scheduled to appear in Elgin County provincial offences court in June, CBC News has learned. 

The two, who have been vocal about their opposition to COVID-19 public health measures, attended the large Sunday service in the southwestern Ontario town. Both told CBC they'll fight the charges.

Sloan, Hillier and eight others were charged after the service. The church, as a corporation, has also been charged with failing to comply with the Reopening Ontario Act. 

If found guilty, Sloan and Hillier could be ordered to pay up to $100,000 or spend up to a year in jail. 

Corporations could face fines up to $10 million.  

Church has history of defying COVID-19 rules

Hundreds of people attended Sunday's gathering without wearing masks or social distancing. 

Sloan, who was kicked out of the Conservative caucus by leader Erin O'Toole in January for accepting a donation from a white supremacist, told cheering parishioners he was "blessed and honoured" to attend the service. 

Hillier, who already faces charges for defying public health measures after attending anti-lockdown rallies in other parts of the province, said the last 13 months "have been a dark time."  

Speaking to CBC News on Tuesday afternoon, Sloan said he had not yet received his summons, but added: "I will absolutely fight it. The government is afraid of actually fighting any of these in court. I suspect they don't want to have a toe-to-toe when it comes to evidence and constitutionality of it, so they'd rather use it as a scare tactic to the average person."

Sloan said he had a busy weekend, going to rallies in Barrie, Stratford and Chatham, as well as the Sunday church service. 

"I believe that these lockdowns that we're experiencing now will go down as one of the greatest peacetime policy failures in Canada's history," he said. 

'We will not kneel down'

Hillier also said he has not yet seen a summons detailing the charges, but he would fight them in court. 

"I'm confident saying that the courts will nullify the law, if I'm ever allowed to go to court," Hillier said, noting several postponements of his other charges. 

"I've indicated to the courts that I will be challenging these charges under constitutional grounds and I've been vocal that we need to get these charges before a court of law as quickly as possible. That's why I've gone out and engaged in civil disobedience, so that matter could be heard." 

Pastor Henry Hildebrandt called other pastors who won't open their churches "noodle-backs," during his fiery sermon promoting civil disobedience and non-violent resistance of COVID-19 measures. 

"People say to us, 'Why can't you just be kind, wear a mask? Is it that hard?'" Hildebrandt preached. "It's not about that. It's not about the mask...We will not kneel down. Every single person in this room, I admire you for taking a stand in this time."

Others face criminal charges

Calling up Sloan and Hillier to the pulpit, as well as former neonatal nurse Kristen Nagle and an off-duty police officer in attendance, Hildebrandt told the crowd "this is what leadership looks like in 2021," to a standing ovation. 

In Ontario, churches are limited to 10 people in attendance at a time under the current lockdown measures.

In addition to the six people charged with provincial offences for defying the health order, three people face criminal charges relating to Sunday's service.

One man and woman were charged with obstructing police, and another was charged with assault after allegedly charging at a reporter.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story said Derek Sloan was expelled from the Conservative caucus for making a donation to a white supremacist group. In fact, the MP was expelled for accepting a donation from a white supremacist.
    Apr 27, 2021 12:03 PM ET

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