Additional charges have been laid in connection with a large indoor service at the Church of God Restoration in Aylmer.
Aylmer police were called to the John Street North church on Sunday morning after receiving over a dozen complaints about a gathering. When officers arrived, they found more than 100 vehicles in the parking lot.
“A large number of participants attended the Church of God Restoration and entered the church for the service in violation of the current emergency orders,” police said.
Current COVID-19 public health restrictions put in place by the provincial government cap religious gatherings at ten people. They also require face coverings be worn and physical distance maintained. Individuals convicted of violating the emergency orders face a minimum fine of $750, while those guilty of hosting large gatherings can be fined up to $10,000.
The Sunday service was live streamed on Pastor Henry Hildebrandt’s YouTube channel. Video shows people inside the church, none wearing masks or physical distancing. Among those in attendance were independent MPP Randy Hillier, independent MP Derek Sloan, and nurse Kristen Nagle who was fired from the London Health Sciences Centre after organizing and speaking at anti-lockdown rallies.
Following an investigation into the gathering, police announced charges against six people – two Aylmer men, aged 57 and 26, a 60-year-old Pelham man, a 63-year-old Perth man, a 36-year-old Stirling man, and a 38-year-old London woman.
All six are charged with failing to comply with a continued section 7.0.2 order under the Reopening Ontario Act.
Aylmer police did not release names and when asked, would not confirm that the 63-year-old Perth man was Hillier, the 36-year-old Stirling man was Sloan, and the 38-year-old London woman was Nagle.
Those charges come a day after charges were laid against three other people in connection with the same service. A 48-year-old Perth East Township man was charged with assault for allegedly charging at a reporter in an “aggressive manner.” A 20-year-old Perth East Township man and a 52-year-old Shakespeare woman were charged with obstructing police. The woman was initially charged by way of warrant. She turned herself into police on Monday.
The Church of God Restoration and its pastor have gained notoriety throughout the pandemic for repeatedly defying the province’s COVID-19 lockdown rules. Last week, four people, including two Toronto police officers, were charged after a gathering inside the church. Video of the interaction that followed between those in attendance and Aylmer police was shared on social media by Hillier and caught the attention of the Toronto Police Service which has said it is investigating the actions of its officers.
On February 1, charges were laid against two church officials for hosting a gathering exceeding the number permitted under the Reopening Ontario Act. A week prior to that, nearly 50 church parishioners were ticketed for participating in a defiant in-door service.