Aldergrove-Langley MP Tako van Popta is one of eighteen MPs that have taken a stance “for religious freedom” in light of Ontario churchgoers being threatened with charges after participating in drive-through services amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Wednesday, April 29, saw van Popta collaborate with Cloverdale-Langley City MP Tamara Jansen, Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge MP Marc Dalton, and other riding representatives to sign a letter sent to Ontario’s Premier Doug Ford.
The letter implores Ford to act so that communities in Ontario “will not be prosecuted for practising their faith.”
This comes in response to reports that Ontario police have threatened to charge churchgoers who gather, in separate cars, to listen to services broadcast over the radio.
In Aylmer, Ont. more than 50 vehicles parked in the Church of God’s parking lot for a service on Sunday, April 26.
The previous Sunday, April 19, the detachment said it received 15 reports of “a certain congregation” gathered in a parking lot for a service.
The congregant’s actions were “no more violating social distancing rules than anyone in a grocery store parking lot in Ontario,” the MPs urge.
In fact, the drive-in church service was “respectful of social distancing” it asserts.
Aylmer Police Services later released in a statement that it “respects everyone’s rights to peaceful assembly for freedom of expression, and religion.”
Additionally, the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act (EMCPA), enacted by the province on March 17, outlines restrictions upon gatherings of more than five people “for the purpose of conducting religious services.”
Aylmer police went on to say Elgin County prosecutors determined the gathering “a violation of the EMPCA” and that those attending “should be facing charges for failing to comply with an order during a declared emergency.”
Such police actions were an “over-reach” and not justifiable by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the MPs’ letter counters.
Rather, they were “acts of intimidation against communities of faith,” it says.
The MPs pointed to other Canadian provinces permitting specific religious services amid the pandemic.
In New Brunswick, at an April 24 news briefing, Premier Blaine Higgs announced allowances for churches who drive-in to worship – so long as proper COVID-19 precautions are taken.
Aylmer Church of God’s website issued a statement Saturday (April 24): “This has been a moment of truth for Christians across Ontario and the country.”
“Our parking lot will be open to anyone that wishes to park there, stay in their vehicle at all times with their windows rolled up and tuned in.”
Our Charter freedoms must be protected, said van Popta about drive-in services.
Neither the MPs, nor the Aylmer police, said which Ontario church services their public statements referred to.
18 MPs sign a letter in support of ‘religious freedom’ in Ontario:
Alymer Police Services response regarding drive-through services: