LONDON, ONT. -- The Church of God in Aylmer, Ont. is waiting to find out what penalty and/or fines it faces after being found in contempt of an order directing the congregation to refrain from holding religious gatherings and violating the province’s COVID-19 restrictions.

Justice Bruce Thomas found the church and some of its leaders, including Pastor Henry Hildebrandt, were in contempt last month after they were charged for violating the Reopening Ontario Act.

In her submissions, Crown Attorney Connie Vernon argued that despite being charged and found in contempt, indoor services were still held at the church on May 2 and May 9, with hundreds of people involved.

“They have made it very clear that they will continue with their non-compliance with public health issues,” said Vernon.

She continued, “They have in fact encouraged civil disobedience...Henry Hildebrandt is encouraging others to breach the court order.”

Vernon told the proceedings via Zoom that the congregation has been told to resist the COVID-19 restrictions in a non-violent way and they are told, “It is a made up is Satan versus God...we in Canada are at war right now.”

Lawyer Lisa Bildy, who represents the church, said, “There needs to be a voice for constitutional freedom and Pastor Hildebrandt has stepped into that role.”

She added, “This church has been the target of the police, the media and the government...they are under constant threat.”

Speaking about the congregation Bildy said, “Church is fundamental to these people, taking away their church is a severe penalty.”

The court heard that a constitutional challenge from the Church of God Restoration, along with Trinity Bible Church in Waterloo and the United Reform Church in Welland will be heard on Oct. 4 in St. Thomas.

Before wrapping up for the day, Thomas said, “ I am deeply concerned about the toxic environment in Aylmer...what I see is a splintered community, a fractured community.”

The crown is asking for more than $100,000 in costs and the church faces having its doors locked by the courts.

Thomas will hand down his decision on Friday morning.