Last weekend’s indoor gathering at an Aylmer church that has frequently flouted COVID-19 rules has led to contempt findings against the pastor, the assistant pastor and the corporation.
But the often-defiant minister and one of his supporters, independent MP Derek Sloan
from Eastern Ontario, still found victory in the face of the contempt ruling, tweeting and expressing thanks the judge did not grant a request for an injunction to lock up the church and shut it down.
“God answered prayer and we are so thankful,” Pastor Henry Hildebrandt tweeted in the fallout of Friday’s ruling, adding in a video statement he had a “heavy heart” knowing what might happen in court but that “we must be bold for God” and continue to do what the Bible instructs.
“We will continue to do what the Bible tells us to do in the least provocative manner possible,” he said, adding “I desire to be pleasing to God, whatever it takes.”
“GREAT news!” Sloan tweeted: “A judge has refused Ontario ATT. Gen’s motion to lock down Aylmer’s Church of God today!”
Earlier Friday, Superior Court Justice Bruce Thomas made the ruling in a St. Thomas court against Hildebrandt, assistant pastor Peter Wall and the Church of God (Restoration) corporation for defying a court injunction slapped on the church in February.
With the case still before the court, all eyes will now be on what happens this weekend at the church in Aylmer, a town that’s a designated hot spot for COVID-19 and one where Hildebrandt has long pushed back against Ontario’s emergency law gathering restrictions, starting with drive-in church services he held early on in the pandemic in defiance of the law. Those gatherings were later allowed.
Friday’s interim injunction order was put on the church after Ontario’s attorney general sought to require it to comply with the Reopening Ontario Act, the emergency law that restricts indoor church gatherings to 10 people.
Those restrictions were in place last weekend when the Aylmer church had a packed indoor service with between 200 and 500 people, including Sloan and outspoken MPP Randy Hillier, also from Eastern Ontario, a former Progressive Conservative expelled from the Tory caucus two years ago.
Both politicians have been vocal opponents of COVID-19 restrictions, attending rallies against the measures including in Southwestern Ontario, and both were ticketed along with others.
Thomas didn’t go so far as to agree to an order sought by the Crown to lock up the church doors. That decision was deferred to the next court hearing, on May 13.
Nor did Thomas set any fines against the church and its principals – but another case in Waterloo Region suggests they could be steep: In February, Trinity Bible Chapel in Woolwich Township and six church elders were fined $38,000 and ordered to pay $45,000 in legal costs.
The Aylmer church has been at the forefront of pandemic rule discontent since the public-health crisis began a year ago, first by holding outdoor services when they were banned. Hildebrandt has become one of the public faces of the anti-mask and anti-lockdown movement.
Last Sunday’s service led to more tickets and two men face criminal charges after one of them charged at an Aylmer Express newspaper reporter who was covering the event.