Springs College facing backlash over grad ceremony that appears to have violated public health orders
WINNIPEG -- Photos are circulating online of a graduation ceremony that apparently took place at Springs College, which has been followed by backlash.
The photos show graduates from Springs College, which is an affiliate of Springs Church, gathering indoors without masks and in close proximity, and Pastor Leon Fontaine can be seen attending the ceremony remotely.
Jonathan Glass, a parent whose oldest child is graduating from Kelvin High School, said there won’t be any kind of traditional ceremony for his kid when they graduate in June, and he was in disbelief when he saw the Springs College pictures.
“We are trying to get through this pandemic so that we can return to some normalcy, and to see other people who think that the rules aren’t going to apply to them, it really just makes me think that we’re going to be in this longer now,” said Glass.
“I’m not a scientist, or a politician, or a doctor, but I know that there’s a path forward and that’s through vaccinations and through following the rules.”
Springs Church has previously received thousands of dollars in fines for violating public health orders.
Pictures of the graduation spread across the province and got a strong reaction from Manitobans who believe the ceremony shows a lack of regard for the rest of the province.
Reverend Erik Parker is the Pastor at Sherwood Park Lutheran Church. He wrote an open letter to the leadership of Springs Church, asking them to apologize for breaching health orders, and encouraged their church members to remain at home while orders are in place.
“Most churches, most faith communities are not doing this kind of stuff,” said Parker.
“To see this church putting themselves first ahead of the community is just really disappointing and saddening. I was very disturbed by seeing these photos from this week.”
Parker said the actions of Springs College don’t align with the Christian calling to love thy neighbour.
In a statement to CTV News, MLA for Southdale, Audrey Gordon said she was disappointed to learn about the graduation.
“Anyone who chooses not to follow public health orders is disrespecting their family, their friends, their community and the front line health care workers who are doing everything in their power to care for those in need.”
Premier Brain Pallister said most Manitobans are following the rules and making sacrifices.
“But we got some people out there who choose not to do that, and that’s very hard to take,” said Pallister. “That’s why we stepped up with our enforcement, that’s why we’ve stepped it up with our fines.”
CTV News reached out to Springs Church, and Leon Fontaine who is president of Springs College, but didn’t get a reply. However, late Saturday night, Fontaine shared a video addressing the ceremony.
In it he said the 18 students involved were physically distanced, had staggered seating, and were in the same cohort during the school year. Fontaine said the images shared on social media didn't show the distancing well.
"On the last days of classes, these same 18 students went into one of our TV studios with the doors closed, locked to the public, to shoot the commencement proceedings," said Fontaine in the video. "This TV shoot was done for broadcast to our drive-in parking lot. I want to emphasize that this was a closed set, and at no time were members of the public in attendance to this TV shoot in our studio."
Fontaine said there were "no requirements" for Springs College students to wear masks during classes during the year, nor to wear them for a "final picture."