Canadian church sues province for banning drive-in worship

Leon Fontaine, senior pastor of the Springs Church, a multisite congregation based in Winnipeg, Manitoba, in a Facebook video posted Dec. 2, 2020.
Leon Fontaine, senior pastor of the Springs Church, a multisite congregation based in Winnipeg, Manitoba, in a Facebook video posted Dec. 2, 2020. | Facebook/Leon Fontaine

A congregation in Canada has filed a complaint against a government shutdown order that prevents them from holding drive-in worship services on their church property.

Springs Church of Winnipeg, Manitoba filed suit on Wednesday in the Court of Queen’s Bench on Wednesday in response to receiving four $5,000 tickets over the weekend for each drive-in service they held, reported the Winnipeg Sun.

The church is calling for a stay on the most recent public health orders, which prohibit the drive-in gatherings, whereas earlier COVID-19 restrictions allowed for the services.

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Leon Fontaine, the senior pastor at Springs Church, posted a video to Facebook on Wednesday arguing that the drive-in worship ban wrongfully singles out churches for worse treatment.

“The government has established rules which prohibit people from gathering with people who aren’t members of their household. They have deemed these rules sufficient to keep people safe as they drive to the liquor, cannabis, or big box retail store, park their car, and enter those facilities,” said Fontaine.

“If this is the case, we have to ask ourselves why the government has deemed it unsafe for Manitobans to drive to their place of worship with their windows rolled up for the entirety of a service and practice their faith. We believe this is an oversight on the part of the government of Manitoba.”

Under present public health restrictions in the province of Manitoba, group sizes cannot be higher than five people inside or outside, with some exceptions.

In addition to the drive-in worship at Springs Church, others have gathered for religious services elsewhere in the province in defiance of the latest regulations, including the city of Winkler.

"I am disappointed. I think there are other ways in which to get our point across without having to gather in an illegal manner and try and provoke animosity between individual groups," said Winkler Mayor Martin Harder, as reported by CBC News.

“The vast majority of churches would strongly voice their concerns against this type of gathering. It's a select few possibly that are a little bit more conservative that would have more of this kind of an approach.”

The Church of God Steinbach was blocked by police on Sunday from holding its drive-in service. Churchgoers were prevented from entering the church parking lot, a move that Senior Pastor Henry Hildebrandt called "heartbreaking."

In response to the restrictions on drive-in worship, The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms sent a letter of complaint to Premier Brian Pallister of Manitoba on Tuesday.

“There is no scientific or medical justification to prohibit drive-in church services when the same, or even riskier behavior in terms of hypothetically transmitting Covid-19 is permitted by the Province of Manitoba at big-box stores,” read the letter in part.

“The Province of Manitoba may only infringe Canadians’ constitutional rights if the government authority can demonstrate a pressing and substantial justification for doing so.”

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