'Faith is not a building,' B.C. health officials say after weekend church gathering
Langley RCMP received a complaint from the public about a gathering at Riverside Calvary Chapel in North Langley Sunday morning. (CTV)
VANCOUVER -- The "vast majority" of faith leaders in B.C. are co-operating with the government's efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19, health officials said after a weekend that saw one church fined for holding an in-person service.
Authorities said they received a public complaint about a gathering at Riverside Calvary Chapel in North Langley on Sunday morning. Cpl. Holly Largy said officers asked congregants to leave, but they refused.
"We can't remove people," Largy told CTV News on Sunday. "We gave them the opportunity to disperse. They refused, so they were issued a violation ticket."
At her Monday coronavirus briefing, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry acknowledged there are some people of faith creating "some consternation" around her latest order barring in-person church gatherings, but said most are complying and opting to hold virtual services.
"Faith is not a building," Henry said. "It's not about Sunday mornings, but it's about every day, and how we connect with each other and how we support each other. It's not about rights."
She also once again asked British Columbians to follow the province's tough-but-temporary restrictions, which were given added urgency after 46 people died from COVID-19 over the weekend – making it B.C.'s deadliest weekend of the pandemic.
Henry noted that seniors are the most likely to suffer the consequences of irresponsible behaviour.
"These people have faces, have names, have stories, have families," she said.
"If you are thinking that it might be OK to bend the rules, please remember that this virus takes lives."
Langley RCMP said officers attended the first of three planned services at Riverside Calvary Chapel on Sunday, and returned for the second and found no in-person gathering taking place. Authorities were not called back for the third.
One church member, Brent Alan Mills, told CTV News he never saw RCMP asking people to leave when he attended on Sunday, only a bylaw officer who came in as the service was starting.
"He spoke to the pastor but the pastor is not going to tell anybody to leave," said Mills, who estimated about 10 people were inside at the time.
He suggested the public health order asking people to attend church services remotely until Dec. 7 violates members' Charter rights.
"As a Christian you want to go and hear the word of God taught," he said. "We do live in a free country."