Sims: Church of God Constitutional Court Battle Stirs Up Rhetoric and Bad Memories

It’s been a slow, tedious courtroom in a terrible memory that most of us want to leave behind.

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It’s been a slow, tedious courtroom in a terrible memory that most of us want to leave behind.

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For three days this week, a Superior Court judge heard arguments about whether the winter and spring 2021 COVID-19 restrictions imposed on Ontarians, particularly two churches that have come to the forefront of the anti-war movement. -restriction, were constitutional.

This was long before the People’s Party of Canada’s surge in popularity in the federal election, the protests and, ultimately, the tantrums currently plaguing downtown Ottawa.

A year ago, the vaccines were just starting to arrive, the number of cases was high, many people were getting seriously ill and dying, and the anti-restrictions movement was starting to gain a foothold.

And that’s when the Aylmer Church of God and its defiant pastor, Henry Hildebrandt, failed to follow Ontario’s temporary public health restrictions that limited religious gatherings to 10 people and opted for large services interior religious, then exterior.

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Hildebrandt and the church’s disregard for the urgent public health emergency got them into a lot of trouble that they made a lot of fuss about. The same goes for Trinity Bible Chapel in Waterloo, the other church challenging the constitutionality of the reopening law, arguing that their right to worship has been violated.

The repeated kicking by the Church of God came as a blow to city police and polarized Aylmer. The city remains one of the least vaccinated communities in the province.

The church was hit with heavy fines but continued to have its large gatherings unmasked when gathering restrictions were set at 10 people for indoor or outdoor church services.

Ironically, this week’s closing arguments before Superior Court Judge Renee Pomerance were held virtually as the courts adapted for two years to limit the spread of COVID-19.

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It wasn’t made for courtroom TV viewing. Pomerance was tasked with sifting through stacks of legal arguments, expert public health testimony, case law and submissions.

But what was repeated over and over again by the province’s lawyers was that, as restrictive as the laws seemed, these were temporary measures necessary to fend off a virus that had the potential to kill thousands more people than he hasn’t already.

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For nearly two years, this has been the message of experts in health, epidemiology and medicine. As the virus has mutated and evolved, so have the advice and restrictions deemed necessary to keep people safe.

During the hearing, I was fascinated by the comments of church lawyer Rob Kittredge, who called all the restrictions, already lifted, “structures of authoritarianism” that needed to be dismantled.

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Kittredge called ongoing scientific modeling that predicted a collapse of the healthcare system if we did nothing “dark and catastrophic predictions” that never came true.

He said that if he “did not want to trivialize” death statistics, he should not only look at deaths and hospitalizations, but also “the serious deleterious effects only for religious people in relation to the refusal of religious gatherings. or even limiting the size of religious gatherings.”

Kittredge wanted Pomerance to know he was not a religious person, but said the courts must determine ‘if we want to throw democracy and the Bill of Rights out the window in the name of panic and political expediency. “.

This is where I have trouble. The majority of Ontarians listened to the experts, followed the advice and made sacrifices for the health of everyone else. And we needed to take care of each other.

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Provincial lawyers showed Pomerance high-profile videos and photos of at-risk religious gatherings, including people inside the church and drone footage of large outdoor services, while the rest of between us took care of each other. And, depending on how the cases were dropped, the law worked.

Again, this was temporary, during a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic. Churches have reopened.

“All the evidence shows (the restrictions) limited real risk, helped Ontario bend the curve, helped Ontario put needles in their arms and helped us loosen those restrictions,” the judge told the judge. attorney general’s attorney Josh Hunter.

Pomerance said she had “a lot to think about” and will have a ruling on the constitutionality in the coming weeks.

For those of us who have followed the science, this is not authoritarianism. It is obvious.

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