WINNIPEG: The Justice Centre has issued a warning letter to Premier Brian Pallister for violating the Charter freedoms of faith communities in Manitoba. The Justice Centre has informed the Manitoba Government that declaring drive-in religious services to be outlawed by the Public Health Order violates the fundamental freedoms of religion and peaceful assembly.
Premier Pallister has two days to reverse this decision, or the Justice Centre will file for an injunction to prevent the continual enforcement of fines and tickets against church goers.
Various Manitoba churches have attempted drive-in services since the Public Health Orders ordered them to shut down on November 22. These churches had been carefully following social distancing guidelines by planning church services using the same format as a drive-in movie. 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 have occurred without incident across Canada this past weekend, and began earlier this spring when the first lockdowns shut down churches.
Dr. Brent Roussin believes these drive-in services violate the latest Public Health Orders: “Whenever you’re gathering a large amount of people in the same area for a prolonged period of time then you look at other parts. Are people going to be in their car? Is that all household people in there? Does anyone need to use the washroom during this time?” Roussin stated to CBC News.
If the Province of Manitoba consistently applied this same approach equally to the entire province, it would lead to a ban on all public parking during the Covid-19 pandemic, including at Costco, Walmart, and liquor stores,” states Allison Pejovic, Staff Lawyer at the Justice Centre.
“The Covid-19 pandemic does not suspend the protection of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, or the rights of Canadians. The restriction of public religious gatherings in which people exclusively occupy their personal vehicles on a parking lot while worshipping is irrational, unnecessary and not a minimal impairment of Charter rights,” continues Ms. Pejovic. “The measures taken by the Church provide much more safety to public health than long lineups of people waiting to get into the liquor store or Costco, or sitting in their vehicles bumper to bumper at the Tim Horton’s drive-thru.”