Saskatchewan Health Authority challenged for violating Charter freedoms

Apr 14th, 2020

 

SASKATOON: The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (jccf.ca) has issued a warning to the Saskatchewan Health Authority for preventing a church from holding a drive-in church service where attendees would hear the service over their car stereos without exiting their vehicles.

The Nipawin Apostolic Church had carefully planned a drive-in Easter service for Sunday morning, in the same format as a drive-in movie, ensuring that social distancing would be observed. The church had asked people to stay in their vehicles, and to listen to the service and participate in worship via their radios. Car windows would remain closed, and people could flash their car lights instead of saying “amen.”

People socially isolated in vehicles are at no risk for contacting a virus from fellow church-goers. In planning the service, the church followed  provincial guidelines, and obtained the approval of municipal officials. Many such Easter services occurred without incident across Canada this past weekend, with reported success.

The Health Authority, however, deemed the church’s drive-in Easter service a “mass gathering” in violation of Saskatchewan’s Public Health Order. The church was forced to cancel the planned drive-in church service, or face the risk of the church and its parishioners being penalized with steep fines. The Health Authority decision was ostensibly based on an unfounded concern that attendees would leave their vehicles and engage in personal interactions without social distancing.

If the Health Authority consistently applied this same rationale equally to the entire province, it would lead to a ban on all public parking during the Covid-19 outbreak.

“The Covid-19 outbreak does not suspend our freedoms as protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” stated Jay Cameron, Litigation Manager for the Justice Centre.

“This restriction of public religious gatherings, in which people exclusively occupy their personal vehicles on a parking lot while worshipping, is irrational, unnecessary and a clear violation of Charter rights,” continued Cameron.

In a letter to the Health Authority, the Justice Centre has requested an immediate response confirming that the Health Authority has rescinded its decision to deem drive-in religious services a violation of the Public Health Order.