The government of the Canadian province of Manitoba has modified public health orders to allow churches to hold drive-in services, which previously had not been permitted under any circumstances. This news comes after Church of God Restoration and Springs Church (the latter of which recently lost a court battle) received hefty fines for defying the government’s ban.
“Drive-in events are allowed, but are a temporary and time-limited measure,” said Manitoba’s chief public health officer, Dr. Brent Roussin in a press conference Tuesday. “This section of the orders will be subject to compliance. 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.”
Roussin announced that public health orders would be extended from Dec. 12 through Jan. 8 with “minor adjustments.” A news release detailing these adjustments states that while drive-in events are now permitted, “cars must contain members from one household only and no one may leave the car while at the event.”
“We know that these orders have been challenging,” said Roussin, “some more so than others. We know that it’s going to be challenging going into the holiday season, that our holiday season is going to look much different than normal for many Manitobans, but we know that we require these restrictions based on the current numbers. We need to keep our healthcare system open for everyone who needs it.”
The Manitoban government released a bulletin today announcing a 13.3 percent COVID-19 positivity rate for the province and a 13.9 percent positivity rate for Winnipeg, Manitoba’s capital. As of Nov. 21, the city of Steinbach, which is 45 miles from Winnipeg, was seeing a 40 percent positivity rate for COVID-19.
Restrictions Relax for Springs Church and Church of God Restoration
Springs Church in Winnipeg recently returned to online-only worship services after losing a court battle on Saturday. The church had incurred $37,000 in fines for holding drive-in services and had sued for a temporary stay on the order prohibiting them. The church’s pastor, Leon J. Fontaine, said he had been told if the church continued holding drive-in services, they could see fines of up to one million dollars for an organization and $100,000 for individuals.
Chief Justice Glenn Joyal of the Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench denied the request for a temporary stay, saying, “I do not believe that the applicants meet their burden of showing that (they) will suffer irreparable harm if the injunction is not granted.” Following the court’s decision, Springs Church published a media release calling upon the Manitoban government to “reinstitute safe drive-in church while continuing its efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19.”
Church of God Restoration near Steinbach is another congregation that has been defying the ban on drive-in events, despite receiving multiple fines and being confronted by police. Global News reports that, in addition to other more recent fines, the church has incurred a $5,000 fine and Pastor Tobias Tissen has incurred two $1,300 fines.
It does not appear as of this writing that Springs Church has commented on the government relaxing its restrictions, but Church of God Restoration posted a response on Facebook, saying the changes are an “important first step in the right direction.” The church also thanked Manitoba’s premier, Brian Pallister, although the post then went on to say that Pallister has “presided over an unprecedented attack on faith communities.” The statement added:
We will now turn our efforts and focus on the God-given freedoms of His people to gather as the Bible directs us…The Bible commands us to be good citizens of a lawful government and we will continue to encourage Christians to be examples of love and kindness wherever possible, but when tyranny becomes law, resistance becomes duty. Godly people do not fight with physical violence but the weapons of our warfare are spiritual and we fight against spiritual wickedness in high places.
Despite this seeming victory, there are many church leaders in Manitoba who believe churches should comply with public health orders instead of defying them. Twenty-three pastors from Steinbach and the surrounding area signed an open letter at the end of November entreating residents to follow government orders per Romans 13.
Rev. Erik Parker of Sherwood Park Lutheran Church in Winnipeg wrote an open letter dated Dec. 6 urging Springs Church to apologize for its behavior. Fifty clergy members signed it.
After the government’s recent announcement. Parker told CTV News that the conflict between the church and the government should never have happened. “Complying with public health orders is most important,” he said, “and not fighting against any small inconveniences because ultimately it was only a few weeks these drive-in services were banned.”