Calgary pastor says church will continue to break COVID-19 rules, days after health ordinance was issued

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Alberta Police and Health Services responded to a church in southeast Calgary on Sunday after the pastor continued to encourage worshipers to break public health rules following an order relating to a fine and a sanitary inspection.
Pastor Tim Stephens wrote in a newsletter emailed to worshipers at Fairview Baptist Church on Wednesday that he had been fined $ 1,200 from Calgary law enforcement officials for violating public health orders.

“I approached the regulations theologically, scientifically, legally and politically. I knew that getting fined would be a real possibility. Having received one now, the course is unchanged, ”he wrote, adding that he would not follow the restrictions and the reduction in the ability to ensure physical distancing or the application of mask use to the body. within the church.

There are currently more than 5,000 active cases of COVID-19 in Calgary, more than 37,000 people in the city have recovered and 407 have died.

The city’s R-value is 1.02, which means that each person who contracts COVID-19 will infect more than one other person.

Crowded auditorium, no masks

An Alberta health care worker said an inspection found only two of 75 attendees were wearing masks, the pastor and church staff were unmasked and the rows in the auditorium were full , with people seated side by side within two meters. a part.

The inspection also revealed that there had been no cleaning or disinfection of heavily affected surfaces between departments.

The officer gave the following orders to the church verbally on Monday and in a written order on Tuesday.

  • That staff and participants wear masks.
  • That the church calculate its authorized capacity under public health restrictions, and not exceed 15% of the capacity of the fire code.
  • Make sure the physical distance is applied.
  • Post signs telling people with symptoms of COVID-19 or who may have been exposed not to enter the building.
  • Complete a risk mitigation plan and submit it to AHS.

The church had until Friday to complete these guidelines.

It was not ordered to close, but was informed that further work may be needed to ensure compliance with the Public Health Act or to prevent harm to public health.

Police confirmed they were called to help AHS enforce the law at the church on Sunday.

A spokesperson for AHS said in a statement that AHS knew some Albertans were actively disobeying public health orders. The spokesperson did not say whether any additional fines or ordinances were imposed on the church, but said places of worship that do not obey orders risked being subject to closure or ‘fines.

In Sunday’s live-stream sermon, the pastor and a man handing out materials to the congregation can be seen without a mask.

The community association expresses its concern

The Fairview Community Association sent a letter to the pastor on Sunday, expressing the board’s disappointment at actions by the church and its members which it says show a continued disregard for the safety of the community.

“Fairview is made up of a diverse group of residents, backgrounds and faiths, but we all want a safe and welcoming community to be able to call home,” reads the letter, signed by the board chair. , Regan Klyn.

The community association said its board of directors passed a motion saying it will no longer hold meetings in the church space, even after large gatherings are re-permitted under provincial health restrictions. .

“We hope your church will do whatever is necessary to minimize risk and provide a role model of behavior and choices that will protect our community – our neighbors and residents of Fairview, but also the entire provincial population. Please do not continue to ignore health. of our community. ”

Alberta’s current public health restrictions are expected to remain in effect until January 21.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, urged people to continue to follow restrictions to ease pressure on hospitals.

“Our health care system is always under extreme pressure and this impacts our ability to meet all of Albertans’ health needs,” she said in a public update Thursday.

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