Charges laid after Aylmer church holds indoor service

Church of God Pastor Henry Hildebrandt holds up a copy of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms during an indoor-service, January 31, 2021. Screen capture from Hildebrandt YouTube channel.

More charges have been laid after a church in Aylmer defied the province’s COVID-19 lockdown rules for the second straight week by hosting an indoor service.

A large number of people were seen going inside the Church of God on John Street for a service on Sunday. Video of the nearly hour and a half long service was posted to Church of God pastor Henry Hildebrandt’s YouTube channel. It began with a children’s choir singing. None of the children wore face masks and they were standing shoulder to shoulder for the duration of the songs. That was followed by more singing, this time from a group of adults who also failed to recognize physical distancing or wear face coverings.

Hildebrandt then took the pulpit amid cheers from the parishioners.

“For the health of our bodies and more importantly the well-being of our souls we have gathered here this morning,” he told the crowd, which erupted with more cheering and applause.

At no point during the video does the camera turn to show the congregants of a church, as it did the previous week after Hildebrandt invited those gathered for a drive-in service inside the building for a “little tour.”

Under provincial lockdown measures that have been in place since December 26, indoor religious services are capped at ten people, where physical distancing can be maintained. Drive-in services are allowed but are subject to certain conditions.

Nearly 50 people were charged under the Reopening Ontario Act for allegedly participating in the defiant in-door service on January 24. Among them was an 85-year-old woman who was featured in a video played at this Sunday’s service who compared the restrictions that led to her ticket as an act of communism.

“We have offers coming in left and right. People saying ‘let me pay that ticket for that lady’ but we aren’t paying no tickets,” Hildebrandt shouted following the short video.

Aylmer police were on hand for Sunday’s service, but did not intervene or try to stop those entering the church. Days prior to the service, Police Chief Zvonko Horvat issued a statement urging the church and those planning to attend the service to “lead by example and abide by the current restrictions and emergency orders.

On Monday, police announced charges against two people in relation to Sunday’s service which they called a “clear contravention of emergency orders.”

A 57-year-old man and a 26-year-old man, both from Aylmer, are charged with hosting an event exceeding the number permitted under the Reopening Ontario Act. A charge against the church itself has also been processed, police said.

Additional charges are likely to come in the coming days as police continue to review evidence.

“Community safety and well being and enforcement of laws is our top priority during this global pandemic. Aylmer Police would like to thank the Aylmer citizens for being responsible by not engaging in counter protests during the events on 31st of January 2021,” said Horvat.