Calgary pastor says church will continue to break COVID-19 rules, days after health order issued

Police and Alberta Health Services responded to a southeast Calgary church on Sunday, after the pastor continued to encourage congregants to break public health rules following a fine and health inspection order. 

Pastor Tim Stephens wrote in an emailed newsletter to Fairview Baptist Church congregants on Wednesday that he had received a $1,200 fine from Calgary bylaw officers for violating public health orders. 

“I addressed the regulations theologically, scientifically, legally, and politically. I knew that receiving a fine would be a real possibility. Having received one now, the course is unchanged,” he wrote, adding that he would not be following the restrictions and reducing capacity to ensure physical distancing or enforcing mask use within the church.

There are currently more than 5,100 active cases of COVID-19 in Calgary, nearly 37,000 people in the city have recovered and 404 have died.

The city’s R-value is 1.02, meaning that each person who contracts COVID-19 will infect more than one other person. 

Crowded auditorium, no masks

An officer with Alberta Health Services said an inspection found that only two of approximately 75 attendees were wearing masks, the pastor and church staff were unmasked and rows in the auditorium were full, with people sitting side-by-side in rows less than two metres apart. 

The inspection also found that there was no cleaning or disinfecting of high-touch surfaces between services.

The officer issued the following orders to the church verbally on Monday, and in a written order on Tuesday. 

  • That staff and attendees wear masks.
  • That the church calculate its allowed capacity under public health restrictions, and not exceed 15 per cent of fire code capacity. 
  • Ensure that physical distancing is enforced.
  • Post signage instructing those showing COVID-19 symptoms or who may have been exposed to not enter the building. 
  • Complete a risk mitigation plan and submit it to AHS. 

The church was given until Friday to complete those directives.

It was not ordered to close, but was advised that further work could be required to ensure compliance with the Public Health Act or to prevent a public health nuisance.

Police confirmed they were called to assist AHS with enforcement at the church on Sunday. CBC News has reached out to AHS to ask what enforcement was taken Sunday, and has yet to receive a response. 

Alberta’s current public health restrictions are expected to remain in place until Jan. 21. 

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, has urged people to continue to follow restrictions to ease pressure on hospitals.

“Our health-care system is still under extreme pressure and this is impacting our ability to care for all the health needs of Albertans,” she said during a public update on Thursday.

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