Officials close Calgary church, citing disregard of COVID-19 rules

·2 min read

Alberta's health services delivery agency says it has "physically closed" a Calgary church whose lead pastor was arrested last month for allegedly violating COVID-19 laws.

The contempt of court charge against Tim Stephens of Fairview Baptist Church was later withdrawn, but Alberta Health Services announced Saturday that it has now "prevented access to the building."

In a news release, AHS says the action was necessary because it alleges the pastor has continued to disregard public health measures.

It says a closure order will remain in effect until he can demonstrate the ability to comply with the restrictions.

A Facebook post from the church says the locks have been changed, adding the government "will only demonstrate the folly of their actions and bring glory to Christ."

AHS says in its release that it has tried to work with the pastor since December, but it alleges the church has continued to hold services each Sunday that exceed maximum capacity, with minimal to no masking or physical distancing.

The release notes that AHS has received 57 public complaints regarding the church.

"AHS recognizes that the vast majority of places of worship are compliant with required public health measures for the protection of not only those who attend services, but for the protection of their families, friends and communities," the agency said in Saturday's release.

Stephens was arrested on May 9 for allegedly organizing a church service that was held earlier in the day at Fairview Baptist Church, which police said did not comply with public health orders.

AHS said at the end of May that it withdrew its application against Stephens due to an issue of mistaken identity when the injunction was served.

The church, in its Facebook post Saturday, accused the government of hypocrisy in light of photos this week that showed Premier Jason Kenney having drinks and dinner on a rooftop patio with members of his inner circle.

Critics say the dinner broke COVID-19 restrictions, but Kenney has said it was below the 10-person limit on public gatherings. He has not addressed apparent violations of masking and distancing rules.

"In the same week where our most senior government officials were photographed flouting health orders, AHS continues to try and force us to comply to orders that violate the commands of our Lord and undermine the fundamental freedoms afforded to all Canadians," the church's Facebook post said.

"They can take the building but they cannot take the church."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 5, 2021.

The Canadian Press