Prince Albert mayor, northern chief call for fines after Sask. COVID-19 outbreak tied to church meetings

Evangelist says singers went unmasked during recent meetings flagged by health officials.

Evangelist says singers went unmasked during recent meetings flagged by health officials

Greg Dionne, mayor of Prince Albert, said the organizers of a local gospel church tied to a recent regional outbreak of COVID-19 should be fined by the province after it was disclosed church members didn't wear masks while singing. (CBC)

The mayor of Prince Albert and the chief of the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation in northern Saskatchewan say the organizers of Prince Albert church meetings that have been tied to a regional outbreak of COVID-19 should be fined by the provincial government. 

"I think anyone that has a gathering has to be responsible for the safety of those individuals," said Chief Peter Beatty on Thursday of the meetings.

"There's got to be strict consequences," said Mayor Greg Dionne. "They weren't wearing masks. The rules say they have to. So take action. People have to know that we're a strong government."

Provincial health officials confirmed six people who had attended meetings at Full Gospel Outreach Centre in Prince Albert from Sept. 14 to Oct. 4 had tested positive for the virus and that close contacts had been identified in several communities, including some First Nations.

Shahab responds to question of fines

The number of positive cases tied to the outbreak is expected to climb, with Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer, Dr. Saqib Shahab, singling out the north and far north super-regions as areas likely to see increases. Prince Albert is located in the north central region.

Shahab also confirmed that "a few" people form Alberta and Winnipeg attended church meetings and that investigations into those cases continue.

Asked about fines, Shahab said the first priority is to reach every person who attended the meetings and get them to self-isolate and get tested if they are symptomatic. He said his team is working with the church organizers to do that.

Shahab said the province will then review its guidelines to see if fines are warranted. 

Church attendee from Southend tests positive: chief

Beatty said a woman from Southend tested positive for the virus after attending one of the Prince Albert church meetings as well as a funeral in Pelican Narrows. He said that person has infected four other people: an elderly person in Southend and three people in Deschambault Lake.

"It's connected to that church in PA," Beatty said. 

Shahab said five cases are under investigation, without citing any regions. 

Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation placed all of its communities under lockdown on Thursday, closing schools and announcing that vehicles coming into communities would be searched, with anyone but band members and residents barred from entering.

"There'll be designated days where people can go for supplies and shopping," Beatty said. "So we're back to the same scenario that we were in back in March. Full lockdown. There's no inter-community travel either. It's really put us in a position that we didn't we don't need to be in at this point." 

'I'm disappointed,' mayor says

Ian Lavallee, an evangelist who led meetings at Full Gospel Outreach Centre, confirmed singers did not wear masks. He said they didn't know provincial guidelines required them to. He said the church had hand sanitizer and offered masks. 

Lavallee said the government had not spoken to him about a fine as of Thursday.

A photo of a Sept. 11 meeting, posted on Lavallee's Facebook page, showed an audience of mostly unmasked people. 

Evangelist Ian Lavallee, who led some of the meetings, posted this photo of a Sept. 11 meeting on his Facebook page. (Ian Lavallee/Facebook)

"I'm disappointed," Dionne said of the church, "but I'm also disappointed in the [province]. There's been no charges laid."

Dionne said he's concerned because people from northern Saskatchewan attend the church and "nobody knows what the real number [of infected[] is."

As of Wednesday, contact tracers had reached out to more than 100 people, according to health officials. 

Scott Moe reacts 

Sask. Party Leader Scott Moe was asked at a news conference Thursday morning if there would be any consequences for church organizers.

Moe said he would let the contact tracers do their work. 

"Our staff are working very hard," he said. 

Sask. Party Leader Scott Moe called on people to follow all public health rules. (CBC)

Moe said that while interprovincial travel is not illegal, it's currently discouraged unless absolutely necessary. 

He called on people to follow the rules. 

"Let's not let our guard down in adhering to the public health recommendations that are there, including wearing a mask if you're singing in your place of worship."


Guy Quenneville

Reporter at CBC Saskatoon

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