Supporters rally to help Prince Albert gospel outreach centre pay $14K COVID-19 fine
At least 25 cases have been linked to Full Gospel Outreach Centre outbreak
Supporters are rallying to raise money for the Prince Albert outreach centre the province has fined $14,000 for recently breaking COVID-19 health guidelines.
Last week, health officials declared a "multi-jurisdictional" outbreak stemming from church meetings held at Full Gospel Outreach Centre from Sept. 14 to Oct. 4. An evangelist who participated in meetings, Ian Lavellee, said attendees sang without wearing masks — in direct contravention of Saskatchewan's places of worship guidelines.
Twenty-five COVID-19 cases have been linked to the outreach centre.
"It is anticipated that several of the  positive cases reported [Monday] will also have a connection," health officials said in their latest update.
Cases included in the outbreak include both people who attended the church meetings and people who were in contact with attendees, a Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) spokesperson said Tuesday.
Cases counted in the outbreak could also include people who attended both the Prince Albert church meetings and a subsequent Oct. 3 gospel-themed concert in Beauval, which was also flagged by health officials last week, the SHA spokesperson said.
Five cases total among Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation members in Southend and Deschambault Lake have been noted.
New case details revealed
On the weekend, the provincial Ministry of Health began publicly disclosing active and new cases within 32 distinct regions of the province, adding a new level of detail to its reporting. Previously, that information had been covered in 13 larger zones.
Some areas connected to the outbreak have shown an uptick in overall new cases.
Zone "North Central 2," which only covers Prince Albert, reported 20 new cases over Saturday, Sunday and Monday— including 12 on Monday alone. The number of known active cases as of Monday was 22.
Zone "Far Northeast 1," which covers Southend — the community cited by Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation — saw six new cases over the long weekend. Its active caseload was 10 as of Monday.
Dr. Saqib Shahab, Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer, declined Tuesday to discuss the fine issued to the outreach centre but spoke generally about fines, calling them "the last step."
"I think in most cases, we should not even wait for it to get to that," Shahab said. "And in the vast majority of cases, when we look at places of worship and we look at other settings, people have been very cautious, judicious, complying with the guidelines, being very careful around each other. And that's been shown in our numbers."
In light of the outbreak, however, Shahab has called on people to wear masks in all indoor public spaces "where people outside of your immediate or extended household are present and physical distancing is not possible or is unpredictable."
Pastor's wife speaks out
Both Lavallee and Wendy Rose Temple — wife of the outreach centre's pastor, Vern Temple — stated in Facebook posts over the weekend that the centre had been fined.
Lavellee confirmed the fine, which includes a victim surcharge, to CBC News.
"Vern has the ticket," Lavallee said of Temple, declining to say more.
Temple could not be reached for comment.
Wendy Temple came to the outreach centre's defence and criticized Prince Albert Mayor Greg Dionne — who had called for the fine — in a Saturday Facebook post shared on the outreach centre's page.
"For over 30 years he has worked tirelessly to feed, shelter, clothe and most of all love those who are homeless or struggle with addictions," Wendy wrote of her husband.
"This is a man that Vern endorsed, campaigned and prayed for at the beginning of his political career," Wendy wrote of Dionne. "Is Vern perfect? No! Does he always make the right decisions? No! Is he steadfast and unwavering in his faith. Yes! Will he stand up for those that most people in our society ignore and turn away? Yes!"
CBC News has reached out to Dionne for comment.
According to a post by the outreach centre, the fine partly stemmed from the fact that Temple was feeding people. The provincial guidelines state that "no food or beverage service is allowed" at places of worship.
"He loves helping the people that are down and out," the outreach centre's post stated, before sharing Temple's phone number and email address for people who want to "stand with them financially" and send an e-transfer to help pay the fine.
Lavallee also shared Temple's information for those wishing to help pay the fine.
Province doesn't want to fine people: Moe
In a news release about new COVID-19 cases and the gospel outreach centre fine on Sunday, health officials wrote, "as a number of contact investigations conclude, it is anticipated that fines will be issued in cases where negligence and misconduct have been found."
That same day, Saskatchewan Party Leader Scott Moe wrote on Twitter that while the fine was necessary, "we don't want people to be fined. We just want them to follow public health guidelines."
Moe acknowledged some people have been calling for tougher COVID-19 guidelines and restrictions.
"That shouldn't be necessary," he wrote. "Guidelines and restrictions in place now are working, if everyone follows them, as the overwhelming majority of SK people are doing."
While this fine is necessary, we don’t want people to be fined. We just want them to follow public health guidelines. That’s how we‘ll keep those around us safe & keep businesses, schools, services & activities open.<br><br>We can do this. Let’s stay safe & have a happy Thanksgiving!—@PremierScottMoe
CBC News asked the Ministry of Health last week if the outbreak would prompt changes to places of worship health guidelines, such as requiring all attendees to wear masks regardless of whether they're singing.
"We will look into updating the guidelines to specifically include this very basic and repeated information so as to not leave any room for confusion but guidance on appropriate physical distancing, masking at events and in public spaces where distancing cannot be maintained is long-standing," a ministry spokesperson said.