An Alberta-based advocacy group is threatening legal action over Manitoba’s ban on drive-in religious services under the province’s stringent public health orders meant to curb the spread of COVID-19.
The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, which got involved in a fight over drive-in services in Ontario earlier this year, has written a letter to Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister demanding the ban be overturned by end of day Thursday.
The current public health order dictates religious services be held virtually.
The author of the letter and staff lawyer for the centre, Allison Kindle Pajovic, said the organization plans to apply for a court injunction over the issue if the ban isn’t withdrawn.
At least two Manitoba churches — the Church of God Restoration south of Steinbach and Springs Church in Winnipeg — have continued to hold or attempt to hold drive-in services in recent weeks despite the ban. Officials have issued tickets at the services to individuals and the churches.
“Your freedom to worship and your freedom of religion are charter-protected rights and the courts have recognized that people have individual beliefs that ought to be protected and they’re not insignificant,” Kindle Pajovic said.
“We can’t understand why drive-in services are being prohibited… we can’t see any medical justification for prohibiting people from sitting in closed cars to gather in a parking lot… people can now go to parking lots at big box stores and go shopping and get out of their cars.”
The current public health order bans all gatherings of more than five people and does not allow any socializing between households with minimal exceptions, among other orders. That order was put in place Nov. 12 as novel coronavirus cases spiked in Manitoba.
Manitoba’s chief public health officer, Dr. Brent Roussin, pointed to potential risks associated with drive-in church services when asked Monday.
“Are people going to be in their car? Is that all household people in there? Does anyone need to use their washroom during this time?” Roussin said at the time.
But Wednesday, when asked whether public health officials are considering changes to the ban, Roussin was less definitive.
“We know that these current orders expire Dec. 11, so we’ll need to be reimplementing some sort of restrictions at that point so we’re reviewing all sorts of issues with these current orders,” Roussin said Wednesday.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the premier did not address the centre’s threat of legal action when asked for comment Wednesday.
Instead, the spokesperson said the province follows the advice of its public health officials.
“The current public health orders are necessary to halt the spread of this deadly virus, bend our COVID curve down and ensure our health-care system is there for all Manitobans when they need it,” the premier’s press secretary wrote in an email.
“We recognize this is a challenging time, but we need the full participation of all Manitobans in order for these public health measures to work.”
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