Another church hit the news in Manitoba. This time it was the Springs Church. Though from Winnipeg, Steinbach has a lot of connections with the Springs Church. Many Steinbachers attend it and are members in it.
The church felt it was unfairly treated by Manitoba Health orders requiring all church gatherings to be virtual. In my opinion, they actually had a stronger argument than the Church of God Restoration in Steinbach. All they wanted was permission to conduct church services in the church parking lot through a broadcast and loudspeaker with promises that they would not allow participants to use the washroom facilities and would not permit socializing. So if anyone had to go they would have to go.
They even had some scientific evidence that the chance of the virus spreading if people remained in vehicles with windows up there was very low. The province though feared members would socialize and then the damage would be done and it could not be undone.
It was unusual, but the court agreed to hear arguments from lawyers for both sides on a Saturday so that a decision could be made before Sunday services.
The church argued the most recent Manitoba public health order, which required religious services to be only available online or via broadcasts, violates their members’ freedoms of religion and association under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The order also bans public gatherings of more than five people, whether religious or not.
Springs Church asked on behalf of its members for a temporary stay of enforcement of the order so that drive-in services could continue until a full hearing on the charter issue could be held. Their lawyer argued the drive-in services do not pose a threat to public health, since attendees are told to remain in the vehicles while a pastor speaks from the stage. I must admit this argument makes some sense.
The province’s lawyers argued the restrictions on in-person gatherings whether religious or not are required to slow the spread of COVID-19. Until recently, Manitoba had for a while the highest per-capita rates of new infections among provinces. And Steinbach was at the top of the list in Manitoba.
It should be remembered that this was a preliminary motion. That means it was a temporary order allowing parties to present more time and arguments later if they wished Sometimes courts like to act quickly. More often they like to meander towards the truth. Being a recovering lawyer, maybe that is where I get my meandering tendencies.
The Springs Church requested a stay of legislation. As a result the church had a high onus of proof. It is not enough to prove that they are right in their argument. They also have to prove they would suffer irreparable harm if the preliminary injunction against the government was not granted. That is hard to prove. And according to the Court of Queen’s Bench Judge they failed to prove it. I agree with that decision.
Justice Joyal decided that the Springs church failed to show sufficient evidence that being able to sit in a car while listening to a church is required to practice their religion while they could sit at home and participate remotely form there. Isn’t one as really good as the other? Are their religious freedoms really being significantly violated?
It must be remembered that because this is a preliminary motion, once the trial is held, if it is held, the church could still win the case.
It was also interesting that on Saturday Manitoba had the highest number of deaths in one day—19 in the history of this pandemic. I really think Manitoba health officials should not be wasting their time arguing with churches in court. Their energies could be better spent fighting the pandemic. I really think Christian churches should think more about others and demonstrate that they take seriously the words of their God to love others as they love themselves. I think so far members of this church have only demonstrated that they love themselves.