Charges pending after gathering at Church of God in Aylmer, Ont.
AYLMER, ONT. -- Aylmer, Ont. police say they are reviewing evidence and are expecting to lay charges for breaching Ontario's emergency orders after a gathering at the Church of God on Sunday.
A video posted to Pastor Henry Hildebrandt's YouTube page shows a group of maskless people inside the church on John Street North, which would violate provincial rules limiting in-person religious gatherings to 10 people.
Aylmer police Chief Zvonko Horvat says, “Our investigation, this time around, will hopefully identify those individuals that were not only organizing but also in attendance and we will be charging all of those that we can identify...Everybody who is identified will be charged.”
He adds, “It’s totally irresponsible what this particular group is doing. The great citizens of Alymer are abiding by the rules, including the business owners who are impacted by the current restrictions. And our expectation is that others will abide, and it’s unfortunate that this particular group chose this path.”
Horvat says police were out on patrol on Sunday, but not at the event as the church had abided by provincial rules over the past two or three weeks.
“We felt that perhaps this was a good indicator they were going to continue to abide by the rules, unfortunately they chose not to.”
Southwestern Public Health Medical Officer of Health Dr. Joyce Lock says she hopes people follow public health measures, but strongly echoes the police chief's tough stance.
“For those who blatantly disregard communal responsibility, at this point in time, I make a request that they reconsider their actions and step-up to participate.”
In a statement released to CTV News, Hildebrandt said the church needs to gather, and questions why big box stores remain open, but not faith communities.
"Today was the day all church buildings were to reopen in Ontario, our Premier promised us a month ago. Now there's only talk of months and months of lockdowns with no consultation with faith communities. Yet, big box stores remain open, with little regard for the needs of believers. The Church that Jesus built holds a superior position to Walmart and is vitally important to our lives."
But Lock says there are many other options beyond gathering to meet the needs of being together.
“We do recognize that fellowship together in groups is a basic need, and that it seems to be stronger right now through this challenging time. But, we do advise people to consider other options such as the virtual meetings that a lot of other organizations have engaged in over the past few months.”
When asked about indoor church gathering taking place, Ontario Premier Doug Ford stated Monday, “I think it is careless and irresponsible to host, especially in the situation we’re in right now."