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Police made an appearance at a drive-in service held at an Ontario church on Sunday to enforce the province-wide emergency order, according to the Toronto Sun. Police previously asked the church not to hold services during this time but the pastor has continued as he believes no laws are being broken.
Pastor Henry Hildebrandt gave a service that lasted for about a half hour at Church of God in Aylmer, Ontario. Around 70 cars attended the service with their windows up and tuned in to a radio station to listen.
Hildebrandt defended the need for Sunday morning gatherings while speaking from the entryway of the church.
“I am so glad, so glad we can do it like this. I can never be distant from you, never, I can never be distant from you,” he said. “We’re here this morning in order for you to cast your eyes on me . . . to come here so we can see one another.”
“So why don’t we just wave at each other and honk a little bit?”
Many people responded and honked their horns.
“I was overwhelmed to see how many people did stop by to listen in and I also feel we did very well in social distancing,” Hildebrandt noted when the service was finished.
“This is not a gathering because people are staying in their vehicles. There was no crowd to be seen anywhere. When I preach I use my hands, my arms, half of my preaching is by my actions. It’s very important to interact that way, As you saw we waved at each other and blinked the lights. It just makes all the difference.”
Aylmer police videotaped the service from the entryway of the parking lot and allowed it to play through—helping to direct traffic when it finished.
Nick Cake, a London Lawyer is representing the Church of God and sat in on the service.
“There were no laws being broken here. The spirit of the law is to keep people apart physically, not to keep cars apart in a parking lot. It’s to prevent public contact,” Cake said.
“The only ones out of their cars were you guys (about a dozen journalists) and the police.”
Cake said he is hopeful that police took note of the safety measures being taken by all who participated.
“Hopefully they do see that everyone kept their windows up and this was just akin to a Costco parking lot. The right thing would be to continue to let people operate in this way.”
Hildebrandt said he was aware that the recordings made by police will be taken to the Crown’s office where they will decide if charges are necessary.
Last week, Chief Zvonko Horvat said that charges would be laid by his officers under an Ontario emergency order brought in to fight the spread of coronavirus if the church held another drive-in service.
According to the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, based in Alberta, police cannot ban the services.
“The Charter of Rights isn’t suspended just because we have an emergency facing our society. There are measures that are going to be justifiable that do restrict the freedoms we normally have,” said Lisa Bildy of the justice centre on Sunday. “But there is a balancing act that has to happen and there always has to be a minimal impairment of those fundamental freedoms.”
“They’re not doing anything to jeopardize anybody’s health. I think there should be some accommodation from the authorities as well,” she said.
“Parking lots all over the community are filled with people. If it’s in front of a store it’s fine but put it in front of a church and somehow it now becomes a problem.”
Hildebrandt said that officers were sent to monitor the two previous gatherings.
He added that it was confirmed by a constable that no violations were made at last Sunday's service.
Police received negative comments after a picture of the parking lot was posted to Facebook.
Individuals can be issued a $750 ticket for breaking the province's emergency orders. Company directors can receive a fine of $500,000 while corporations can see $10 million.
Hildebrandt noted that he offered to pay police officers to look over the services if necessary.
“I have tried every which way. But the chief, I would say he is on the wrong side of history. This morning this was the safest parking lot as far as COVID-19, this was the safest parking lot in town, by far.”
He added that people can park at the liquor store down the road and leave their vehicle to buy alcohol with no legal trouble.
“We absolutely do not want to cause unnecessary disturbances in Aylmer. I don’t want to cause trouble. But I saw no way around it,” Hildebrandt said. “I know we were with God’s blessings this morning. We plan to be here next Sunday, the Lord willing.”