Manitoba

Steinbach-area church plans another in-person service in defiance of health order

A rural Manitoba church that's already been fined for breaking a provincial public health order says it will hold another in-person service this Sunday.

Province's top doc warns health hazard order could be issued, more fines given

The Church of God and parking lot, seen from above, on Nov. 22. (Submitted)

A rural Manitoba church that's already been fined for breaking a provincial public health order says it will hold another in-person service this Sunday.

The Church of God south of Steinbach is not backing down from its fight against the province and is using a newly created Facebook page to encourage people to attend.

Manitoba's current public health order limits groups to five people, bans visitors to homes and orders places of worship to close with some exceptions.

Dr. Brent Roussin, the province's chief provincial public health officer, said the government has a number of tools it can use for enforcement of public health restrictions. 

"If somebody was undertaking activity that we felt put the health of the public at risk, we could issue a health hazard order that would require an organization to close. There could be continued fines, there could be prosecution under the Public Health Act. So those are just the various options available to to enforce things," he said.

Roussin said the test positivity rate for Steinbach remains at a troubling high. Last week, he said the the local health district had hit 40 per cent.

The RCMP wouldn't say what its officers would do if another large crowd shows up to the church on Sunday.

"We must stress that participating in any type of large gathering at this time is a contravention of the provincial emergency orders currently in place by the province of Manitoba. Contravening these orders would put people at risk, and we all have a role in keeping Manitobans safe," wrote Cpl. Julie Courchaine in an email.

She added the force would work closely with the province to protect citizens.

The church's decision to promote another in-person worshiping event comes after it received a $5,000 fine Tuesday for holding a service last Sunday the RCMP said well over 100 attended.

The province also fined Church of God minister Tobias Tissen for being there and attending a protest in Steinbach earlier this month. Tissen, who is facing two fines totalling nearly $2,600, declined to do an interview Thursday.

The Church of God has held similar services in violation of public health orders in other jurisdictions. 

About the Author

​Austin Grabish joined CBC in 2016 after freelancing for several outlets. ​​In 2018, he was part of a team of CBC journalists who won the Ron Laidlaw Award for the corporation's extensive digital coverage on asylum seekers crossing into Canada. In 2019, he was on the ground in northern Manitoba covering the manhunt for B.C. fugitives Bryer Schmegelsky and Kam McLeod, which attracted international attention. Have a story idea? Email: austin.grabish@cbc.ca

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