Expect 'further action' this week against Waterloo-area church that opened for Sunday service

·4 min read

Waterloo Region Police Chief Bryan Larkin says "further action" is expected to be taken against a church just north of Waterloo that opened on Sunday for services despite a court order telling them not to hold in-person services.

Trinity Bible Chapel on Lobsinger Line, which has been ticketed twice for exceeding capacity limits during the provincial lockdown, held two in-person services on Sunday morning.

Under provincial rules, only 10 people are allowed at an indoor religious service or ceremony. The church can hold drive-in services where people remain in their cars.

Holding services on Sunday was in defiance of a Superior Court of Justice order obtained by the Attorney General, which told the church to follow the requirements under the Reopening Ontario Act. If the church opened for in-person services and exceeded capacity, church officials could be held in contempt of court.

Some in the community have asked why police didn't stop people from entering the church on Sunday, but Larkin said during a media briefing Monday morning that police couldn't do it.

"The Reopening Ontario Act does have an enforcement component that allows the police service to disperse, but it doesn't allow for us to prevent," Larkin explained. "For us to actually end the matter, there has to be a congregation. So we would actually, lawfully have to let access, to have individuals go in and start and to congregate before we could actually then shut it down."

'Careless and irresponsible': Ford

Premier Doug Ford called the church's actions "careless and irresponsible."

"They have to be responsible. I'm so disappointed that people would go there," he said during a press conference Monday. "I understand how important places of worship are. But they have to lead by example."

He asked the church to stop hosting in-person services.

"There will be consequences," he said.

Solicitor General Sylvia Jones didn't specify what further action the province could take but said she was working with the Attorney General on the injunction.

"Community leaders need to lead, and that includes our faith leaders," she said. "I would urge this church in particular to do the right thing."

In an email, a spokesperson for the Ministry of the Attorney General said: "We understand that church services were held at Trinity Bible Chapel on Sunday despite the injunction order. Ontario is reviewing the situation and considering next steps. As this matter is before the courts, it would be inappropriate to comment further."

Bylaw officers observed

Larkin said on Sunday, police knew regional bylaw officials would be on hand to observe the situation as the church had indicated it would open. Bylaw officers gathered evidence that the church was breaching the court order, he noted.

The Region of Waterloo said in a statement on Monday afternoon that it is providing the Attorney General with information about what bylaw officers observed on Sunday.

"Numerous charges are now before the courts relating to enforcement of the Reopening Ontario Act with respect to Trinity Bible Chapel," the region said.

"The region must respect the judicial process that is underway at this time. The region is unable to comment further with regard to enforcement or legal proceedings as they are currently before the courts."

Larkin said he was unable to detail what "further actions" would be taken but more information will be provided this week.

Larkin added that successful crowd dispersal requires many officers and planning. One or two police officers could not go in and break up a crowd of 200 or 300 people, especially if they thought some participants would refuse to leave and if many people weren't wearing masks.

"We will develop a plan to ensure and prevent any further services from happening. Clearly, this continues to be an ... overt and deliberate sense of action that is putting our community and our public health at risk," he said.

"We all are making sacrifices and rest assured – and a message to our community – is that we will, over the next couple of days, have a larger enforcement plan to ensure and prevent any future gatherings and we will, to the fullest extent of all legislation available to us, prosecute and move forward the allegations through the judicial system," he added.

"How we get there may not be fast enough for our community, but rest assured, we will."