Representatives from three different churches in B.C.'s Fraser Valley have been handed a combined $18,400 in fines for violating public health orders.
The eight $2,300 tickets stem from gatherings held at the various churches over the first two Sundays in December.
Authorities haven't released the names or locations of the places of worship, but said Chilliwack RCMP officers dealt with each incident.
In a news release, the Upper Fraser Valley Regional Detachment said police worked with provincial and regional health officials "in the education and enforcement of current COVID-19 health regulations to attain the compliance of the congregations."
Representatives from the three churches were ultimately charged under B.C.'s current public health orders on Thursday. The RCMP declined to comment on whether officers would be proactively surveilling the places of worship this coming Sunday.
While the vast majority of religious leaders in B.C. have complied with provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry's orders, there has been pushback from some individuals who see the restrictions as an affront to religious freedom.
They were joined this week by the Canada Civil Liberties Association and B.C. Civil Liberties Association, which wrote a letter to Henry this week arguing for an exemption to in-person religious services.
“This is obviously a significant time of year for many religious people, and I think they’re looking around and wondering why you can buy Christmas dinner and you can go buy Christmas presents, but why you can’t go to a Christmas mass," Cara Zwibel, a lawyer for the CCLA, told CTV News on Thursday.
Henry has previously stressed the message that B.C. residents can still take part in religious services virtually, arguing that "faith is not a building." During her coronavirus briefing this week, she also pointed out that B.C. was seeing transmission in churches prior to her latest orders, even when worshippers were following strict COVID-19 protocols.
“That is why those settings are included in some of those that we know are high risk right now, and this has nothing to do (with) taking away people’s rights to religious freedom at all,” she said.
With files from CTV News Vancouver's Shannon Paterson