After $37,000 in fines, court rules Winnipeg church's drive-in service breaches health orders
Hundreds of people attended a drive-in service at Springs Church Sunday, November 27.
WINNIPEG -- The Manitoba courts have ruled that a Winnipeg church cannot hold drive-in services.
On Saturday afternoon, the Chief Justice of the Court Queen's Bench Glen Joyal ruled that a drive-in church service is still a gathering, which violates public health orders.
"It would be unfair to other religious organizations if it was the only applicant who received an injunction, and the other religious organizations were required to comply with the law," said Joyal.
He said people staying in their vehicles amounts to nothing more than a self-directed health measure.
The Springs Church first held a drive-in service on November 26 and was fined $5,000 for breaking public health orders.
It then received 10 more tickets on November 28 and 29, totalling $32,776, for holding more services.
In an affidavit, the church's pastor said he was told if the church held another 'church in our cars' service, individuals could receive fines up to $100,000 and a business could receive a fine up to $1,000,000.
Kevin Williams, Springs Church's lawyer, said the church believes in COVID-19 and is not associated with anti-maskers.
He argued public health orders only list gatherings of persons and not cars.
"It's a gathering, but it's a gathering with a person self-isolated in their vehicles," said Williams. "We're doing this hearing by remote means. I respectfully submit to you that if you could see me, it would have a different impact."
Williams argued that the drive-in service poses no real harm compared to other daily activities. A fact agreed upon by the Crown.
Government Lawyer Denise Guenette said making exemptions for a particular group is a slippery slope that could open the floodgates for more exemptions requests.
"The value of being in the parking lot and listening to a remote service has to outweigh the value of mitigating risk and keeping people distant," said Guenette.
She argued the value to the pastor and churchgoers does not outweigh the life and death risk if even one person gets sick. The Crown said, sitting in a parking lot listening to a service isn't that different from sitting at home and listening.
Joyal denied the church's application for a stay and found Church in Our Cars to be in non-compliance with public health orders.
He said Springs Church failed to show how the exemption would serve the public good.
Joyal didn't give an adjudication on the charter of rights arguments but said those would be dealt with in due course.
After the hearing, springs Church updated its website to say it would only be offering online services this weekend.