Chatham-Kent Police are considering escalating action against several local churches that continue to defy public health orders.
The action comes following yet another weekend of gatherings at Old Colony Mennonite churches in Chatham-Kent. Services with dozens of unmasked participants have been held in Wheatley, Dresden and Charing Cross for several weeks.
“It’s rather disturbing and disheartening that we still have a component of our community that do not wish to comply,” says Police Chief Gary Conn on the refusal to obey current safety restrictions.
Conn says as a result the force is currently in the process of obtaining court injunctions which would give police the option to forcibly shut church doors.
“We are working with the Crown and other community partners in respect to that. If they are granted then obviously we would be in a place to execute them, obviously wanting to execute them in the most least intrusive manner as possible,” says Conn.
“But I see that as probably, and possibly, the next step in increasing enforcement and in the spirit of progressive discipline as well.”
The chief also discussed why police haven’t taken the step of charging everyone in attendance at these services with a provincial offence.
“When you’re dealing with large masses of people… all you require is one person to change the dynamics of a large mass of people and it can become volatile rather quickly,” says Conn. “What we have to weigh when we attend scenes like this is obviously public safety but also officer safety.”
“The other thing that we take into consideration… is the fact that a lot of these people probably wouldn’t be there and in non-compliance with the orders if it wasn’t specifically for the organizer who coordinated and scheduled the event... So that’s why we primarily stick to and target the organizers of these events,” says Conn.
As of last week, Conn says Chatham-Kent police have handed out 20 provincial offences fines, around $880, and 15 summonses, a more serious offence, under the Reopening Ontario Act since measures came into effect last year. Many of these have been issued to members of the Old Colony churches including one provincial offence and three summons in Dresden.
Wheatley has had two provincial offences and five summons levied while a pair of Charing Cross members have received summons. Summons fines can range from $10,000 to $500,000 for individuals and up to $10 million for corporations.
Alex Kurial, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Independent