Nova Scotia church, worshippers fined more than $70,000 for ignoring health rules

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WESTON, N.S. — Nova Scotia RCMP fined 26 people $2,422 each after officers responded to a complaint that a faith-based gathering Sunday at a church in the Annapolis Valley was in violation of public health restrictions.

RCMP spokesman Cpl. Chris Marshall said Monday the church that organized the event, the Weston Christian Fellowship Church in Weston, N.S., was also fined $11,622.

Marshall said that as the service was starting at 11:15 a.m., the congregation was warned they could face fines under the province's Health Protection Act, but the event went ahead anyway.

Officers had been dispatched to the same church a week earlier, on May 2, after receiving a complaint about a crowd gathering to worship, Marshall said.

But at that time, the RCMP used its discretion to issue a warning because new rules banning faith-based gatherings had come into force only on April 28 as the provincial government moved to deal with a growing COVID-19 outbreak.

Those handed tickets Sunday included 13 men and 13 women.

"It was made clear to them that should complaints continue to come in, that our members would return," Marshall said in an interview.

"There's been a few incidents like this, but they've been rare — especially large occurrences with this many people. It's exceptional."

Chief medical officer of health Dr. Robert Strang expressed disappointment about the illegal event during a COVID-19 briefing Monday, telling reporters he has been in regular contact with religious leaders.

"Together we recognize the importance of faith services, but we also recognize that right now there's a need to do that in ways that don't bring people together," Strang said. "These congregations are putting each other at risk by coming together in person."

Also on Monday, RCMP confirmed that an unidentified "personal services" company in Windsor, N.S., was fined $11,622 on May 6 for failing to shut down as required under the Health Protection Act.

West Hants RCMP said police were notified the business was still operating, even though the owner "went to great lengths to make it appear that she had closed."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 10, 2021.

The Canadian Press