Aylmer, Ont. residents applaud police action as Church of God remains site of defiance
AYLMER, ONT. -- The Aylmer Police Service has laid charges after an investigation into a reported gathering at the Church of God Restoration (COGR) Tuesday evening.
Police said they received a public complaint about a large gathering at the church around 8:20 p.m.
Aylmer Police Chief Zvonko Horvat says officers responded and observed 18 vehicles parked in the lot.
“Those that were in the church came outside. That’s when the officers engaged those that were inside and issued four provincial offence notices.”
According to police, none of the 18 individuals were practicing social distancing.
The four people charged face counts under the Reopening Ontario Act for individual – fail to comply with a continued section 7.0.2 order.
Of the group, two are from the Toronto area and two are from Aylmer.
Police say the investigation is ongoing and more charges are anticipated in the coming days.
Police Chief Zvonko Horvat speaks outside the force's headquarters in Aylmer, Ont. on Wednesday, April 21, 2021. (Sean Irvine / CTV News)
The Church of God Restoration, led by Pastor Henry Hildebrandt, has been the centre of several controversial gatherings and services since the start of the pandemic. Many have attracted national attention.
Horvat confirmed to CTV News that Hildebrandt was not observed at Tuesday’s gathering.
But he further added a person with the same surname is among those facing fines.
Hildebrandt’s son, Herbert Hildebrandt, who often asks as media liaison for the church, did not accept multiple invitations to arrange an interview with CTV News or to send a further comment.
However, he did reply in a text message quoting scripture from the first four verses of Psalm 2 in the King James Bible.
Church of God Pastor Henry Hildebrandt and his son Herbert Hildebrandt are seen in this file photo.
With the latest charges, Horvat says “99 per cent of people” who live here are frustrated those gathering at the Church of God Restoration continue to breach COVID-19 restrictions.
In town, resident Sandy Keep is glad the police took action. But she also wants officers to have the power to do more.
“I don’t think they’re being tough enough. They’re putting us at risk. They’re putting us -- all -- at risk. So I think there should be harsher penalties.”
Michael Belanger, who lives just outside of town, holds a similar opinion.
“Take my wife and I, we haven’t seen our grandkids for a while. We can’t gather. I just don’t think it is right.”
While charges were laid at the COGR, Horvat acknowledges participants at another gathering at Aylmer’s high school Tuesday received warnings over charges.
However, given prior violations at the COGR, Horvat says the action was justified.
“It’s our discretion, and certainly with the issues that we’ve had with this particular group -- we’ve consulted with them, we’ve tried to mediate with them, we’ve done everything that we could in terms of education and they seem to chose not to abide by that.”
The church pastor himself has faced numerous charges for allegedly violating bans on public gatherings and holding services indoors and outdoors.
The Church’s infamy even led to a recent W5 investigation which can be found here.
- With files from CTV News London's Justin Zadorsky