Defiant Aylmer church faces more charges for in-person service
A day after the Church of God in Aylmer again violated provincial lockdown rules by hosting a large in-person gathering, the town’s police service has said more charges are on the way.
Dozens of people were seen going inside the John Street North church for a service on Sunday. It was the second straight weekend the church has held an in-person Sunday service, which aren’t currently allowed under the Ontario government’s emergency law. Since mid-April, religious gatherings in the province have been capped at ten people in order to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
Video of the service, livestreamed by Pastor Henry Hildebrandt, showed those at the front of the church, without masks or physical distancing, singing hymns.
“Charges against the organization and directors who actively participated and organized the service are pending,” Aylmer police announced on Monday morning. Police had been outside of the church to monitor the service the previous day. There were no violent interactions reported.
But inside the church, an ever defiant Hildebrandt spoke of erecting a box where police could leave all their tickets and fines for public health rule breakers.
“We’re about ready to put a big box somewhere and say ‘deposit all tickets here for all of us.’ Because we aren’t stopping. We are going on. We are not giving up. Our eyes are on the goal and our goal is forward, upward… and we are not going to be distracted,” Hildebrandt told his congregation.
During the hour and twenty-three minute service, Hildebrandt held up the Canadian Bill of Rights and expressed his concern over a judge granting a temporary injunction that locked the doors of the Trinity Bible Chapel in Waterloo.
Hildebrandt, his assistant pastor, and the corporation were found to be in contempt by a judge in St. Thomas court on Friday for holding a similar in-person service on April 25. The Superior Court Justice however did not shutter the Aylmer church, a move Hildebrandt celebrated as a victory.
“The Christians answered and said, ‘Oh, Attorney General of the Province of Ontario, there is no need to go into and extended vindication of our conduct. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to turn the heart of the judge against you and not order our church doors to be closed. Our God will deliver us out of your hand. But if not, be it known unto thee, Oh Attorney General of the Province of Ontario, that we will not stop gathering as the church, nor will we bow down to the devastating “laws” the Health Department has set up,” he said as he opened his Sunday service.
Hildebrandt and the Church of God have repeatedly been at the centre of anti-lockdown protests since the pandemic began last year. Charges have been laid against the church and churchgoers on four separate occasions since the start of February for violating the Reopening Ontario Act. To date, none of the charges have been proven in court.
Individuals convicted of violating the emergency orders face a minimum fine of $750, while those guilty of hosting large gatherings can be fined up to $10,000.