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Canada's Crackdown: Manitoba Church Fined $32K for Drive-In Worship, Toronto Church Fights 10-Person Cap


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Multiple religious freedom battles are unfolding right now in Canada, and it's all about harsh COVID restrictions against the right to worship.

A church in Toronto, Canada is speaking out against the province of Ontario's COVID-19 health regulations and has filed a constitutional challenge.

The Canadian Press reports the Toronto International Celebration Church says in court documents that it's challenging the provincial health guideline that puts a cap on weddings, funerals, and religious services to 10 or fewer people.

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Meanwhile, a Manitoba court ruled against a Winnipeg church, saying it will not be exempt from public health orders and will not be allowed to hold drive-in worship services.

CBC News reports officials fined Springs Church and two pastors more than $32,000 for allowing the drive-in services.

"These orders necessarily restrict rights ... in order to prevent death, illness and the overwhelming of the public health system in Manitoba," Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench Chief Justice Glen Joyal said in a rare court hearing held on Saturday.

The province's order requiring churches and other venues of worship to be closed to the public is scheduled to end on Dec. 11.

Churches can hold online services, but no drive-in events with be allowed.  

In a video statement, Springs Church Pastor Leon Fontaine asked church members to contact their elected officials to express their views on the ban on drive-in services, according to CBC News. 

"I know that with the united voice of our community, regardless of your faith, we can show our elected politicians that they can innovate and keep COVID-19 measures in place while looking for ways to safely bolster the spirit of our community and protect Canadian Charter rights," Fontaine said.

Some court watchers are asking why Canadian courts are not questioning the alleged violations of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms which is a part of Canada's Constitution. Passed by Canada's Parliament in 1982, the charter protects every Canadian's right to be treated equally under the law. The Charter guarantees broad equality rights and other fundamental rights such as the freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and freedom of religion.

Cara Zwibel, director of the Fundamental Freedoms Program with the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, told CBC News the courts "should be scrutinizing the decisions that governments are making and the evidence that they're relying on in making those decisions."

"The answer to the question, 'How are you justifying these restrictions on rights and freedoms?' is a question that should have already been answered before the law and order was put in place," she said.

"Those are answers that the government should have at the ready before they impose restrictions on people's rights and freedoms," Zwibel noted. 

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