Police block Steinbach-area churchgoers from outlawed drive-thru service

More than 100 cars sat parked along a rural Manitoba highway Sunday morning, as several RCMP vehicles blocked the entrance to the parking lot for the Church of God’s planned drive-thru service.

Under Manitoba’s public health orders, gatherings of more than five people are banned, places of worship have been ordered to close and religious services are only allowed to be attended virtually.

The church planned to have a drive-thru service with its congregation listening on radios with their windows rolled up. Instead, the service was done over a loudspeaker.

Many who showed up on Sunday are part of the congregation, while others came out from Winnipeg to show their support.

Last Sunday, the same church — located in the rural municipality of Hanover, just south of Steinbach — was fined $5,000 for holding an in-person service that RCMP previously said more than 100 people attended.

More than 100 cars lined the highway as audio of the service played loudly on Sunday morning. (Erin Brohman/CBC)

Its minister, Tobias Tissen, was also fined a total of nearly $2,600 for being at that service and attending an earlier protest against COVID-19 restrictions in the area.

Steinbach has seen a jump in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks. Just over a week ago, Manitoba’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin said the southern Manitoba health district had a COVID-19 test positivity rate of 40 per cent, which Premier Brian Pallister later said was the highest rate in Canada.

Tissen said after the most recent Sunday service that he was not fined and, to his knowledge, neither was anyone in attendance.

A spokesperson for the province could not confirm on Sunday whether any tickets were handed out to those who showed up to attend the service, and said more information will likely be available on Tuesday in a weekly COVID-19 enforcement report.

Roussin previously said the government has a number of tools it can use to enforce public health orders.

“If somebody was undertaking activity that we felt put the health of the public at risk, we could issue a health hazard order that would require an organization to close,” he said. 

“There could be continued fines, there could be prosecution under the Public Health Act.”

The Church of God has held similar services that break public health orders in other regions.

Meanwhile, a church in Winnipeg saw hundreds pack its parking lot for a drive-in service on Saturday night.

Police cruisers and provincial enforcement officers sat parked across the street from Springs Church on Lagimodiere Boulevard as the mega church broke the same public health order as the church near Steinbach.

Updates on whether any fines were issued at that service are also expected on Tuesday.

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