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Ontario church facing coronavirus charges says new provincial orders are devastating

Despite Ontario’s new stay-at-home order and facing several coronavirus charges, Waterloo’s Trinity Bible Chapel intends to continue offering people hope through the pandemic. 

“The Church of the Lord Jesus Christ is a vital place of hope in this world of despair. With the devastation that these new orders will bring, we see even more reason for the Church to be open so that we can offer eternal hope and love to a world in chaos,” Senior Pastor Jacob Reaume told True North. 

“While we desire to honour our governing officials, the government’s actions against our church are perceived as a heavy-handed breach of trust. How the government can regain trust from otherwise peaceful and productive citizens I do not know.”

“Our government has trampled upon the sacred by forcibly severing us from divine worship and Christian fellowship.”

Reaume is among six pastors and church elders who have been repeatedly charged under the Reopening Ontario Act for holding church services contrary to provincial coronavirus health regulations. 

The charges carry maximum fines of $100,000 and a one year prison term for individuals, while the church organization itself could face a maximum fine of $10,000,000 if found guilty of breaking the law. 

According to Reaume, churchgoers have expressed concerns with how Ontario’s new orders have disrupted church education programs and have increased the struggle for young mothers facing postpartum depression. 

“I am particularly concerned about the many young moms with little babies. Postpartum depression is real, and during the darkest and coldest time of the year even that much more of a concern, nevermind the additional burden of living under an oppressive government that tells people not to socialize or sing and pray together at church,” said Reaume. 

Since the charges were handed down to the church, they have retained legal representation with the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF). After considering a number of factors and obtaining legal advice from the JCCF, Trinity Bible Chapel will temporarily refrain from holding in-person gatherings and will offer drive-in services in the meantime. It will reassess the situation again over the next few weeks.

“The Justice Centre is acting for numerous churches and their leaders around southern Ontario, since our mandate is to defend Canadians’ fundamental freedoms even, and especially, during a crisis when civil liberties are drastically curtailed,” JCCF lawyer Lisa Bildy told True North.

“There is a balancing of harms that must be undertaken, particularly as the adverse impacts of the lockdown restrictions on mental and physical health continue to mount. So far, the Ford government has not been put to that test in court.”

According to Reaume, since the first charges were delivered to the homes of church members, bylaw officers have visited the church again on at least two different occasions. 

“They visited the church the following Sunday with by-law officers. Since then, we have only had interaction with by-law,” said Reaume. 

Under the new stay-at-home order, Bildy says that 29 exceptions are listed, including weddings, funerals or religious services. However, attendance for those services has been reduced from 10 people to only five. 

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