Police ‘investigating’ after Victoria church defies COVID-19 gathering restrictions

Police 'investigating' after Victoria church defies COVID-19 gathering restrictions
CHEK News/File
Victoria Police say are looking into the behaviour of a local church that continues to defy provincial gathering restrictions.

Victoria Police say are looking into the behaviour of a local church that continues to defy provincial gathering restrictions.

Oaklands Bible Chapel has held Sunday services since the province introduced strict COVID-19 restrictions that prohibit in-person worship services — sparking complaints to police from nearby neighbours.

Const. Cam MacIntyre, spokesperson with the Victoria Police Department, told CHEK News in an e-mailed statement that they are aware of the complaints against the church and are looking into the matter.

“We are aware of the complaints against the Oaklands Bible Chapel and we are investigating the issue. We encourage everyone to follow the provincial health officer’s guidelines and the rules laid out in the COVID Related Measures Act regarding gathering and events,” MacIntyre said.

RELATED: Victoria church holding in-person worship services despite provincial ban

Dan Anderson, senior pastor at Oaklands Bible Chapel in Victoria, told CHEK on Sunday that only 50 people are allowed in the church during service and that masks need to be worn. He also questioned why malls could remain open but churches can’t hold in-person services.

“Everybody else is OK to do what they do as long as they follow the normal guidelines that we have been following. Why has our thing been removed? Why has church been removed from acceptable things to do as long as you are responsibly doing it?” he said. “It just seems so arbitrary.”

During Monday’s COVID-19 update, Dr. Bonnie Henry, the provincial health officer, was asked her thoughts on the church’s decision to hold gatherings, specifically the church’s comments around malls being allowed to remain open but in-person worship services being banned.

“I think most of us understand that there’s something fundamentally different about being together in a building for a religious service than a transactional service when we’re in there for a short period of time,” she said. “We’re wearing protection, it’s not the same type of environment where we see transmission.”

Henry also said the virus doesn’t recognize if someone is in a church, home or in the mall, but recognizes “opportunities” to spread.
“The virus doesn’t recognize that you’re in a church or in a home, or in a mall, it recognizes opportunities for transmission. And the sad thing is that we have seen elderly people who have been extensively taking all the right precautions become infected in church and religious and faith-based services,” she said.
B.C. introduced a series of COVID-19 restrictions back on Nov. 19, which included a ban on in-person, faith-related gatherings, except for certain events such as weddings, baptisms and funerals. Those measures were extended on Dec. 7 and will remain in place until early next year.

YouTube videos of Oaklands Bible Chapel’s services — as recently as Dec. 20 — show Anderson holding services without a mask on.

During a service on Dec. 6,  Anderson said the church didn’t gather in person on Nov. 22 or Nov. 29 but decided to do so one day before the extension of the provincial health officer’s orders. He also said their rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms are being taken away and questioned the government restrictions.

“Why this enormous effort and this drastic chaining down of our societies and economies, it doesn’t seem proportional?” Anderson said, later adding. “All of this societal change and lockdown and isolation and the ones who are suffering the most are the ones we are trying to save. It’s the seniors who are still all dying.”

The senior pastor also said during his Dec. 6 sermon that COVID-19 presents “absolutely no danger” to students because they would “hardly even notice they were sick if they got it.”

A handful of churches in the Fraser Valley have also continued to hold in-person worship services, which resulted in the BC RCMP issuing the churches fines totalling nearly $20,000.

While some religious leaders, like Anderson, are pushing back against the rules, others are not.

Rabbi Meir Kaplan, director of Victoria-based Chabad of Vancouver Island, believes all religious leaders have a duty to ensure the health and safety of themselves and others.

“As a religious leader, we have a rebellious obligation to look after the health and safety of ourselves, to look after the health and safety of others and to make sure our health system can continue to provide emergency and health services,” said Rabbi Meir Kaplan, director of Victoria-based Chabad of Vancouver Island.

But Kaplan also feels that what is essential is different for everyone and believes there are ways to do things safely.

“As many restrictions as necessary, if six feet is not enough, then do 10 feet. Wear masks, [use] disinfectants, allow only a certain amount of people,” he said.

 

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