Police have charged a Windsor pastor with breaking COVID-19 rules following a church service last Sunday.
On Thursday, Harvest Bible Church said in a news release that lead pastor Rev. Aaron Rock was charged under the Reopening Ontario Act by Windsor police.
“To our knowledge this is the first time that any Ontario pastor has been charged for fulfilling his God-assigned duties at a church,” the news release reads.
In an emailed statement, Windsor police confirmed the charge in relation to a gathering on Dec. 19. Police said they have no further information to report.
This news comes after the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit medical officer of health, Dr. Wajid Ahmed, said in a release Thursday that he is “not recommending in-person gatherings of any kind due to the high risk of disease transmission.”
The church said that police told the church it will bar the congregation from entering on Christmas Eve. The church said it will “go underground” if it has to continue to host worship services.
It called out authorities in the city and said the banning of Christian worship is “discriminatory and unfair.”
Under grey-lockdown restrictions in Windsor-Essex, Ahmed said if religious institutions are moving forward with in-person gatherings, they must be limited to 10 people at any time, including officiants, parishioners and staff.
He also said the following must be adhered to:
- Actively screen all attendees and refuse participation to anyone that fails the COVID screening.
- Ensure physical distancing at all times.
- Ensure all attendees wear a mask or face covering.
Anyone not following provincial guidelines can be subjected to a fine ranging from $750 to $100,000, the health unit said.
Church has in-person Christmas event scheduled
On the church’s website, there are scheduled in-person Christmas Eve events at 5 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. and it asked people to sign up if they are attending.
“We are deeply grieved by these unlawful and immoral acts, having already been banned from meeting on Good Friday and Easter Sunday,” the church said.
The church called lockdown rules “an affront to religious liberties” especially as places like hardware stores can stay open.
It said the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit “refuses to respond to any of our written communication, while requesting that police close our premises.”
The church said it will inform its congregation of temporary plans for Christmas.
“In the end, we will find ways to fulfill our Christian obligations even if we are forced underground or to practice further civil disobedience,” the church said.