A province in Canada that previously banned drive-in events, including worship services, as part of an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19 has changed their rules to allow them to take place.
Manitoba had previously prohibited churches from holding drive-in worship services, even if people stayed inside their vehicles and kept their windows closed.
However, during a press conference Tuesday, Premier Brian Pallister and chief public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin announced a loosening of the rules.
According to the new standards, drive-in worship will be allowed provided people attend only with members of their household and remain inside their cars.
“If we find that drive-in events are not being restricted to households within the same vehicle, or people are getting out of their vehicles at these events – the orders will be subject to change,” stated Roussin, as reported by CTV News Winnipeg.
The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, a law firm that sent a letter of complaint to Manitoba over the ban on drive-in events, celebrated the news.
“The Covid-19 pandemic does not suspend the protection of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, or the rights of Canadians,” said Allison Pejovic, lawyer with the Justice Centre, in a statement released Tuesday.
“This is a small victory for Manitoba churches whose congregants are desperate to worship together, even if it’s just from their cars in a church parking lot.”
Pejovic believes more “work needs to be done however, to reverse Manitoba’s extraordinary and harmful interference with civil liberties.”
Last week, Springs Church of Winnipeg sued Manitoba in response to receiving four $5,000 tickets for each drive-in service it held when the restriction was in effect.
Leon Fontaine, senior pastor at Springs Church, posted a video to Facebook last week arguing that the drive-in ban singled out churches for worse treatment than secular establishments.
“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 the public health restrictions of Manitoba, gatherings cannot have more than five people together whether taking place inside or outside, with some exemptions.
As part of the enforcement of the restriction, the Church of God Steinbach was blocked by police one Sunday from holding its drive-in worship service.
Churchgoers were prevented by authorities from entering the church parking lot, with Church of God Steinbach Senior Pastor Henry Hildebrandt calling it "heartbreaking."
In addition to Springs Church, others have gathered for religious services elsewhere in the province in defiance of the regulations, including in 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 last month.
“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.”