'People will be held accountable': Police to charge Ont. church after holding Sunday service

Published April 26, 2020 11:29 a.m. ET
Updated April 27, 2020 11:07 a.m. ET

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LONDON, ONT. -- Police say charges will be forthcoming after an Aylmer church defied provincial physical distancing orders and held Sunday morning services.

"Today our officers were on scene monitoring the events, and watching what was taking place," says Insp. Nick Novacich of the Aylmer Police Service.

"Just because the public didn't see us handing out a ticket like a speeding stop, people will be held accountable for what happened today," added Novacich.

The Church of God had been advised by Aylmer police not to go ahead with the outdoor service but blatantly chose not to heed the warning.

Roughly 50 cars full of congregants gathered in the parking lot and remained in their vehicles and listened to Pastor Henry Hildebrandt preach from a riser broadcast on a low wattage FM radio signal.

"We explained to them (congregants) that it’s not mandatory to show up," says Henry Hildebrandt, pastor at the Church of God.

"Whoever would like to join this morning, it's your decision, and you could possibly be ticketed. They showed up and were cheering me on."

Two Aylmer police officers were monitoring the situation with video cameras, recording every vehicle in attendance.

"It's no secret the officers were videotaping the event and we'll review all that video and we'll put a package together to present to the local county prosecutor to see what route we need to follow,' says Novacich.

"Throughout this process we’ve taken a measured approach as to what the best avenue is to pursue this. Through consultation this week with provincial and federal prosecutors there is nothing saying we had to physically issue tickets to everyone in attendance. There is other avenues we can pursue including serving a summons on those who we deem were in breach."

Hildebrandt says he's not sure whether local police will take action.

"I have to leave it up to them to see what they want to do with it," says Hildebrandt.

"I see no reason to charge anyone."

Police say the provisions and orders put in place by the province of Ontario for the Emergency Management and Civil Protections Act are 'tricky' and they want to have everything put in place for all sides before moving forward.

Hildebrandt says they did not take a collection, and feels they are no different than any gathering of cars in a grocery store or liquor store parking lot. After seeking legal advice, the church is comfortable it stands on solid ground.

"We have no doubt about that," says Hildebrandt. "We're not asking for special privilege or treatment. There was no parking lot as safe as ours this morning. We had no interaction before, during or after."


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