Philip Hutchings of His Tabernacle Family Church has been remanded in custody until court proceedings resume next Friday. But not before he was criticized by the judge for flouting the court order he had signed a week earlier.
Justice Hugh McLellan of the Court of Queen’s Bench said that Hutchings essentially “laughed” at the order within two days of signing it.
“I am concerned about the personal credibility of Mr. Hutchings,” McLellan said.
The judge also blamed Hutchings for endangering the safety of his congregation by failing to follow public health guidelines and the rules set out in the province’s mandatory order to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.
The judge referred to a four-minute video that was shown in court, showing people entering and leaving the church without wearing masks. A section of the video clearly showed an unmasked Hutchings coming to the door and standing in the doorway for a short time.
The hearing was held in connection with a request filed by the province to close the church for non-compliance.
This was avoided on October 8, when Hutchings agreed to comply until a hearing could take place.
When the parties arrived in court on Friday afternoon, Hutchings attorney Neil Clements requested an adjournment as he had just been held up and wanted a chance to review the case.
The problem, McLellan explained, is that he had already adjourned the case for a week – “a week of non-compliance … and open defiance.”
McLellan said it was difficult to give Hutchings “weight or credibility” by saying he would agree to comply with another court order.
He then invited Jason Caissie, a lawyer for the Attorney General of New Brunswick, to broadcast the video taken by public safety officers outside the Church on Rockland Road on Thanksgiving Sunday.
After playing, Caissie said the concern was that Hutchings could host two services next Sunday that could become the province’s next “super spreader” events.
“I’m disappointed that he accepts a consent order to follow the rules Friday afternoon and then Sunday, according to this video, breaks the rules,” McLellan said.
The judge also gave a brief lesson in torts and criminal negligence law, supplemented by photocopies of the Criminal Code with applicable sections highlighted.
He told Hutchings that following the guidelines established by the Emergency Ordinance and Public Health actually protected the church from potential claims if a worshiper attempted to sue after contracting COVID-19 at a religious event.
He said parishioners regard Hutchings as their protector, “which he has not been to this day.”
Instead, McLellan said, Hutchings was “reckless.”
The judge then said he would accept the adjournment and asked Clements to check his schedule. They agreed on October 22 at 2 p.m.
McLellan said he was still grappling with how to protect the public in the meantime. That’s when he announced he was going to remand Hutchings to custody.
“Sheriff’s officers, take him,” McLellan ordered.
According to an 80-page court record, the church first came to the province’s attention in September, when Hutchings posted on social media that his church would not need masks or proof of vaccination and would not impose physical distancing or limit the number of people to attend.
On September 24, the province’s updated emergency ordinance said churches must choose between requiring proof of vaccination or running services at 50% of capacity with distancing, contact tracing lists and no chanting. . Masks are mandatory with either option.
The emergency order also gives peace officers the power to enter any building without permission to ensure compliance with the rules.
On October 1, a provincial official contacted Hutchings and explained the rules to him. He agreed to comply, according to the court record.
Two days later, another official attended the Sunday service at the church. According to her affidavit, she was the only person wearing a mask. She said no one asked for proof of vaccination, there was no physical distancing, and there was congregational chanting.
The officer left after about 10 minutes, saying she was uncomfortable “due to the risks of COVID in this department.”
Hutchings was then fined for non-compliance on October 6.
On October 8, the province went to court to obtain an “interlocutory order” to close the church for continued non-compliance, but Hutchings signed a consent order, agreeing to “make all reasonable efforts to ensure compliance. »Rules governing denominational gatherings.
But two days after the deal was signed, Public Security visited the church and filmed people coming and going, including footage that was released in court on Friday.