Windsor pastor ready to fight Reopening Ontario Act charge
WINDSOR, ONT. -- According to Windsor pastor Aaron Rock and his lawyers, he is the first pastor in the province to be told by police he was being charged under the Ontario Reopening Act.
He was charged for a service held at Harvest Bible Church on Dec. 20.
While Rock still doesn’t have the paperwork, he says he is willing to fight it.
“I really think it was the necessary next step in order for us to get our message out and be able to get ourselves in some point, before the judiciary to argue our case,” Rock said.
Rock tells CTV News he was at the table with provincial leaders last spring negotiating a safe way to reopen churches.
“We poured our hearts, made our cause, mentioned a potential charter challenge and asked for a response by Monday, and then on Monday, the premier announced he was willing to permit us to reopen our places of worship to the tune of 30 per cent,” he said.
And when Harvest Bible Church could reopen in early Summer, they added in plenty of safety protocols.
“We had temp checks, for months, had sanitizers, all the standard protocols, we pulled out every other row of chairs in our worship center, we had overflow worship centres so people could watch on video, all that stuff,” Rock said.
And then the second wave hit, and Rock saw his congregation of 1,000 people struggling again.
So he admits, Harvest Bible broke COVID protocols on Dec. 20 by celebrating two services.
“The despair and challenges we were seeing among our parishioners, these were all motivating factors for us to take a stand and reopen our church,” Rock said.
The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms has been working with Rock and other churches throughout the pandemic.
Now, their lawyers are representing them in court.
Lawyer Lisa Bilby says they will be arguing the lockdown measures break Canadians’ rights to peaceful assembly for worship.
“Under section one of the charter, our rights can be infringed by the government, but the government has to do a balancing act,” Bilby said. “They basically have to meet a test that is demonstrably justified.”
Bilby says it will be the courts that will provide that test, although she said it could be months before those arguments are heard.
In the meantime, Rock says their church is following lockdown protocols and is closed to all but 10 people who will officiate their drive-in services and online stream.
Rock warns though, if the lockdown continues further into the winter, and they feel compelled to reopen for the benefit of his congregation, they will.