RCMP investigate after over 100 believed to have attended service at rural church

The RCMP didn’t fine anyone at a rural Manitoba church that had a service attracting more than 100 people despite the fact the gathering violated a provincial public health order that bans groups larger than five and requires places of worship to close.

Mounties were called to the Church of God in the Rural Municipality of Hanover, southeast of Winnipeg, around 8:30 a.m. on Sunday about multiple vehicles in the parking lot and a gathering inside.

“It is believed there were well over 100 people inside the church, and the officers had to balance police and public safety when determining a response,” said RCMP spokesperson Julie Courchaine in an email Tuesday.

Officers spoke with a representative of the church but have not issued any tickets yet, Courchaine said.

“However this is currently still under investigation and RCMP are working closely with Manitoba Public Health on the matter.”

The Church of God is located off Highway 12 about 15 kilometres south of Steinbach — a city with a COVID-19 test-positivity rate of 40 per cent — a rate among the highest in North America.

Under the current code red public health orders, places of worship must be closed to the public and everyone is prohibited from assembling in a gathering of more than five at any indoor or outdoor public place.

Religious leaders may offer services at a place of worship, but only for the purpose of offering it for viewing online or through other remote means.

Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief provincial public health officer, said on Monday he was aware of the reports of ongoing church services and made a plea for them to stop.

WATCH | Dr. Brent Roussin says in-person gathering ‘puts Manitobans at risk’:

Dr. Brent Roussin urged Manitobans who are taking part in faith-based gatherings to stay home in an effort to protect the community from COVID-19. 1:08

“It should be quite clear, these orders are not here to restrict your right to worship. These orders are here to save lives,” he said.

“We can’t have in-person gatherings. Not with the positivity rates we’re seeing. It puts Manitobans at risk.”

The fine for individuals breaching the orders is $1,296 while corporations can be penalized with a $5,000 ticket.

This is the second time in the last two weeks the RCMP have not issued fines while being present at large gatherings — in violation of the public health order — in the Steinbach area . 

On Nov. 14, more than 100 people gathered in protest of government restrictions. Some in attendance spoke against mandatory masks. The RCMP were present but didn’t issue a single fine. A provincial enforcement officer did issue one fine to a reeve in attendance.