ST. THOMAS, ON: The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms announces that the Ontario Court of Justice will rule on charges against Pastor Henry Hildebrandt tomorrow, August 24.
Pastor Hildebrandt faces charges for organizing nine church services between January and June 2021 in Elgin County, Ontario. These services exceeded the gathering capacity restrictions in place at the time under the Reopening Ontario Act.
In 2020, Ontario enacted the Reopening Ontario Act and imposed capacity limits on church services. These capacity limits were in place throughout 2020 to 2022 and varied in severity throughout that time. At their most restrictive, church service capacity was restricted to 10 persons.
Pastor Hildebrandt, the Aylmer Church of God, and other parties challenged the gathering restrictions after being ordered to pay $274,000 in fines and costs for violating the gathering restrictions. The Justice Centre held that these restrictions violated the freedom of conscience and religion–the first freedom guaranteed protection by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms–as well as the freedoms of expression, association, and peaceful assembly.
The Ontario Superior Court of Justice and Court of Appeal upheld the constitutionality of the gathering restrictions. On May 1, 2023, the Aylmer Church of God and Trinity Bible Chapel, along with various pastors and elders, filed an application for leave to appeal their constitutional challenges to Ontario gathering restrictions to the Supreme Court of Canada. The parties sought to argue that the lower courts had failed to assess whether the gathering restrictions infringed upon the freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly, and association, as guaranteed by the Charter. On August 10, 2023, the Supreme Court of Canada declined to hear the Appeal.
Lawyer Chris Fleury stated, “Pastor Hildebrandt has had these charges hanging over his head for over two years. We are pleased to see that this case is finally coming to a resolution, and we look forward to the Court’s final decision on Thursday.”
The public is invited to watch the ruling via Zoom at 4:00 p.m. EDT on August 24, 2023.