Pastor defiant as doors locked at Church of God in Aylmer, Ont.
AYLMER, ONT. -- The doors of the Church of God Restoration in Aylmer, Ont. have been locked on the orders of an Ontario judge after the organization was found in contempt of court.
The controversial church was found to be in contempt after repeated gatherings in violation of the Reopening Ontario Act.
In his decision Friday morning, Justice Bruce Thomas said, "The evidence makes it clear that Pastor (Henry) Hildebrandt has control over his congregation…as pastor of this church, (he) is the leading force and unapologetic spokesperson for this offending activity.”
As for Hildebrandt ordering his congregation to go against provincial orders and saying they are not giving up, Thomas found those comments "significantly aggravating" and emphasized his control "would allow the breached conduct to stop if he chose to do so."
Thomas added, “These regulations and the state of emergency were put in place to protect the health of the community and to save lives at a time of soaring infection rates and overflowing hospitals."
He also fined the church $35,000, Hildebrandt $10,000 and Assistant Pastor Peter Wall $3,000.
Shortly after 4 p.m. Friday, Ontario Provincial Police and the Aylmer Police Service arrived at the scene. A crowd of parishioners could be seen exiting the church shortly afterward.
Shortly after 6 p.m. CTV News London confirmed the doors had been locked from Aylmer deputy chief Nick Novacich.
“The door to the church are to remain locked until the restriction are eased and they can have the 30 per cent capacity limit. So the exterior of the building has been locked, they can carry on with the Sunday drive-in services if they choose to do so,” says Novacich.
He added why after locking the doors a large outdoor, unmasked gathering continued.
“We’re going pick our battles here, and we were here for a purpose to get the locks changed, and to ensure things move along,” says Novacich.
Hildebrandt responded to the decision earlier Friday afternoon, saying he was not surprised.
"We kind of expected that it would be this. I don’t think that the judge has a chance to say anything else. Unfortunately right now our government is allowing the health officials to push the judges to make criminals out of law-abiding citizens. That’s what’s happening here."
Church of God Pastor Henry Hildebrandt, left, and Assistant Pastor Peter Wall speak outside the church in Aylmer, Ont. after a judge ordered the doors locked on Friday, May 14, 2021. (Bryan Bicknell / CTV News)
The church has continued to hold Sunday services despite repeated charges under provincial COVID-19 regulations prohibiting gatherings and being found in contempt of court last month.
Even as Thomas was set to rule on penalties for the Church of God, dozens of vehicles could be seen in the church's parking lot.
Asked whether a service would be held this Sunday, a defiant Hildebrandt said if the doors were not locked, they would go back in.
Crown Attorney Connie Vernon noted in a St. Thomas, Ont. court on Thursday 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.
But lawyer Lisa Bildy, who represents the church, argued, “There needs to be a voice for constitutional freedom and Pastor Hildebrandt has stepped into that role...Church is fundamental to these people, taking away their church is a severe penalty.”
A constitutional challenge from the Church of God Restoration, along with Trinity Bible Church in Waterloo and the United Reform Church in Wellandport is set to be heard on Oct. 4 in St. Thomas.
For his part Hildebrandt says he believes they have the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms supporting them.
"We’ve got the Charter behind us, we've got the Bill of Rights, we’ve got the Criminal Code for us, and in Canada you are usually innocent until proven guilty. But I guess this time we’re guilty until proven innocent because we’re going to court in October to see if our charter holds or not."
- With files from CTV News London's Bryan Bicknell and Sean Irvine