Defiant church holds parking lot service while police keep watch

Sunday service at The Church of God in Aylmer, Ont. went ahead as planned, despite a warning from the local police force that said they were defying Ontario’s Emergency Act. 

Henry Hildebrant, the pastor who leads the church, said more than 50 cars filled with parishioners gathered in the parking lot and listened to the service through their radios – honking their horns or flashing their lights when prompted – while officers kept watch. 

The Aylmer Police Service didn’t hand out fines on site. 

“The purpose of [attending on Sunday] was to monitor the event and gather evidence regarding what was happening and that package will be forwarded to our local crown attorney,” said Insp. Nick Novacich.

“Those who need to be issued summonses under the Emergency Measures and Civil Protection Act (EMCPA) will receive those in the coming days,” he added

What police are referring to is a section in the EMCPA which states that “no person shall attend … a gathering of more than five people for the purposes of conducting religious services, rites or ceremonies.”

But Hildebrant is confident the church has taken every precaution to ensure safety and sees no difference between the gathering and cars parked at any other lot in town. 

“I know that we’re doing what we should be doing,” he said. “I don’t know what [police’s] plan is or how far they want to take it. We’re getting legal council daily to make sure that we’re doing it right.” 

Last week, Aylmer police received 15 complaints from the public which is what prompted Chief Zvonko Horvat to seek legal advice from Ontario’s Crown Attorney’s office. 

“The community as a whole is kind of up in arms that one group gets to do these services, yet all the other faith-based groups in the town are adhering to other platforms and formats of delivering their service,” said Insp. Novacich

But Hildebrant questions why other churches aren’t doing it.

“It makes a huge difference [to watch the service] … The connection is there and there’s just no comparison to sitting at home and listening in.” 

Hildebrant said he will be conducting a service again next Sunday. 

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