Manitoba removes ban on drive-in church services after threat of court action

Various Manitoba churches had attempted drive-in services after Manitoba Public Health Orders had banned them on November 22, 2020. These churches had been carefully following social distancing guidelines by planning church services using the same format as drive-in movie theatres. Churches asked worshippers to stay in their vehicles and to listen to the service and participate in religious services via their radios. Car windows remained closed. Many such services had occurred without incident across Canada.

In Steinbach, Manitoba, over 150 vehicles pulled into a drive-in church service at the Church of God, but Manitoba RCMP blocked the road leading to the church and the parking lot. Parishioners parked on the road to hold their services. Manitoba Chief Medical Officer Dr. Brent Roussin suggested to CBC News that drive-in church services could not be allowed as people may need to use the washroom or might have people in their car from another household. However, Global News reported on December 6, 2020 that individuals attending the drive-in church service did not leave their cars.

On December 8, 2020, the Government of Manitoba reversed a previous ban on drive-in religious services and allowed church members to attend church parking lots to worship in their own cars while services were being broadcast through vehicle radios.

The Province’s decision to allow drive-in church services follows the Justice Centre’s legal warning letter on December 2, 2020, in which the Manitoba government was informed that outlawing religious services by Public Health Orders violates the Charter-protected fundamental freedoms of religion and peaceful assembly. The Justice Centre warned Premier Pallister that an injunction application would be forthcoming to prevent the enforcement of fines and tickets against churchgoers.

Allison Pejovic of the Justice Centre remarked, “The Covid-19 pandemic does not suspend the protection of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, or the rights of Canadians. This is a small victory for Manitoba churches whose congregants are desperate to worship together, even if it’s just from their cars in a church parking lot. More work needs to be done however, to reverse Manitoba’s extraordinary and harmful interference with civil liberties.”