Toronto Cardinal demands churches be treated fairly after film crew gets more access to church than funeral

Father Peter Turrone leads a Palm Sunday mass to an empty church at the St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church on April 5, 2020, in Toronto, Canada.
Father Peter Turrone leads a Palm Sunday mass to an empty church at the St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church on April 5, 2020, in Toronto, Canada. | Cole Burston/Getty Images

The head of the Archdiocese of Toronto has demanded that Ontario province stop imposing stricter guidelines on houses of worship than secular entities.

Cardinal Thomas Collins sent out a call to action last week denouncing how the government has imposed stricter limits on houses of worship for in-person gatherings than secular businesses.

Collins gave an example of a movie production crew that was allowed to have around 50 people filming in a church basement hall while a funeral at the same facility was limited to 10 attendees.

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“I do not believe that our elected officials and medical officers of health consciously intend to suppress religious freedom; I realize that they are in an extremely difficult position. We do, however, ask to be treated equitably,” wrote Collins.

“The province has relaxed restrictions in Grey (Lockdown) regions, with retailers permitted to operate at 25 percent capacity. Yet places of worship, regardless of whether they seat 100 or 1,000 people, must remain at a hard cap of 10 people.”

Collins said it “makes no sense” that “funeral at St. Michael’s Cathedral (capacity 1,500) will be capped at 10 people, while around the corner dozens can enter the local liquor store and thousands will visit the Eaton Centre.”

“I encourage all of you … to respectfully request that any restrictions for places of worship use a percentage of capacity as opposed to an arbitrary number,” he continued.

“We are still in the midst of fighting a pandemic and we must be prudent in our actions. Our strict WorshipSafe protocols in our churches have proven to be effective. It’s time to address the growing inequities facing our faith communities.”

The letter provided a link to a webpage where people can contact their Member of Provincial Parliament, which will also be shared with Ontario Premier Doug Ford.

As with the United States, many churches in Canada have taken issue with province-level restrictions on in-person gatherings, arguing that they violate their religious freedom.

Last November, Toronto International Celebration Church filed a lawsuit against the government challenging the provisions of the Reopening Ontario Act that restricted religious services.

According to the Notice of Application that the church filed last year, TICC has been following various public health guidelines, like spacing out attendees, wearing facemasks, and “enhancing” sanitizing practices.

“The church does not dispute the wisdom of such measures and, with the sole exception of the impugned provision, supports their imposition notwithstanding their impact on the free exercise of religion,” explained the notice.

“The impugned provision represents a 99% reduction on the number of worshippers who may attend an in-person service at the church. For the church, the impugned provision represents a near total ban on in-person religious worship.”

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