The Church of God, located just off of Highway 12 near Steinbach, plans on meeting again this Sunday despite being repeatedly told not to by health officials.
Though their gathering together does go directly against provincial public health orders as they pertain to the COVID-19 pandemic, a Facebook post made by the church earlier today stressed the non-confrontational intent of their meeting.
“We will not tolerate any violent or abusive behavior towards enforcement officials or anyone else,” read the statement. “Anyone present on Sunday who engages in a show of violence, disrespect, or otherwise offensive behavior towards any enforcement official will be asked to leave the property.”
In a press conference yesterday, the province's Chief Public Health Officer was asked for his opinion on the Church of God’s continued non-compliance. In his answer, Dr. Brent Roussin chose not to directly address the church but the general situation in southeastern Manitoba.
“Our test-positivity rate is very high and in that particular region the test-positivity rate is even higher,” stressed Roussin. “To gather with a lot of people creates a very high probability that at least one person is infectious and when you gather indoors for a prolonged period of time, it is very likely that that infection will spread. All of these orders over all of this time are being made to protect Manitobans and our health care workers, working around those orders does the opposite.”
When asked what the next level of enforcement for the church could be if they continue to meet in person, Roussin provided another indirect comment about repeat offenders.
“Public Health has a number of options,” he offers. “If somebody was to undertake an activity that we felt put public health at risk we could issue a health hazard order that would require an organization to close, there could be continued fines, and there could also be prosecution under the Public Health Act.”
Meanwhile, the Manitoba RCMP also acknowledged the Church of God’s plan to meet this weekend without specifically naming them.
“It is important to know what the directions are under the Public Health Orders. In the Steinbach area, people have been attending worship services. Please note, the Public Health Orders supersede all other acts in the interest of public safety. All places of worship must be closed and drive-in religious services, even if you remain in your vehicle at all times, are not permitted. Gatherings of more than five people at any outdoor or indoor public place are prohibited.”
Steinbach Staff Sargeant Harold Laninga also weighed in on the matter.
“We want to keep everyone from coming to a large gathering in the first place. It is important to us that all citizens are aware of what the current orders are so they can abide by them. As always, our first and foremost goal is to keep everyone safe, and in these unprecedented times, that means staying at home.”
The public is reminded that there is a new $298 fine for not wearing a mask in indoor public places. Ticket amounts for violating public health orders have been set at $1,296 for those issued to individuals and $5,000 for those issued to corporations.