Manitoba pastor who openly defies pandemic restrictions tells court he has no authority to enforce rules

The religious figure most outspoken against Manitoba’s pandemic-era restrictions told the court Monday it’s not his place to enforce the public health orders.

Church of God pastor Tobias Tissen said he has no authority “based on our Christian convictions” to limit people from going to his church, or forcing them to wear masks.

“We have no authority to tell people they cannot come to church,” he told the Court of Queen’s Bench.

Tissen was cross-examined Monday morning to start a two-week court hearing challenging Manitoba’s right to impose public health restrictions.

The minister of the RM of Hanover church, south of Steinbach, is fighting against the province’s lockdown measures along with seven rural churches.

The group is arguing the public health orders violate the freedoms of conscience, religion, expression and peaceful assembly.

Pastor attended anti-lockdown protests

Tissen and his church have been fined repeatedly for violating the province’s orders. They have ignored the capacity limits and held indoor services when they were barred.

He confirmed to the court that he’s attended various anti-lockdown protests, including one in Alberta where he didn’t follow Manitoba’s self-isolation rules upon his return.

He also said he attend a protest outside the courthouse Monday at 1 p.m.

The court was shown a social media video of one of Church of God’s indoor services. At one point, he objected to the video being displayed as he said it was dragging his church members, including children, and adding to the “trauma, stress and harassment” they have endured.

Dozens of children are shown at an indoor church service at the Church of God in the RM of Hanover at a time when only outdoor or virtual services were permitted. (Facebook/Church of God Steinbach)

When asked if churches were supposed to hold indoor services on that date, Jan. 31, 2021, Tissen said the closure was “required by men, allowed by God.”

The minister later testified that his church is not preventing any of its congregants from observing public health orders, such as wearing masks. 

At the start of the hearing, Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Glenn Joyal acknowledged the controversy surrounding public access to the virtual conference.

Joyal said he would be “very disappointed and somewhat irritated” by any suggestion the public isn’t welcome to watch. He said the 55 members of the public who received a link to watch the online conference is more than most courtrooms can support in person.

Virtual attendance is limited due to concerns surrounding bandwidth on the video conference. Lawyers, applicants, respondents and members of the media are also on the call.

WATCH | Manitoba churches challenge COVID-19 restrictions in court: 

After receiving multiple fines for leading events in violation of COVID-19 restriction orders, Tobias Tissen is part of a court case challenging Manitoba’s provincial government, calling the restrictions violations of charter-protected freedoms. 2:00