RCMP say Mennonite Church organizers could face steep penalties for Sunday Easter service

James Dunn

CORRECTION: Fort St. John RCMP have issued a correction about the history of Old Colony Mennonite Church. Police now say upon further investigation, this is the first time they have been made aware of this church. Another Mennonite Church in the community was issued the warning in February.

RCMP are launching an investigation into a Mennonite Easter church service in Prespatou, where over 150 people broke provincial health restrictions on Sunday.
RCMP are now reviewing CJDC's footage after Sunday's gathering, and Const. Chad Neustaeter says work will begin right away.

"The investigator that's in charge will be reviewing the video, and at that time a determination will be made as to what the direction for the file will be."
On Sunday afternoon, as the service ended, we were surrounded by people who say they just want to be left alone.
Pastor Cornelius Loewen wouldn't agree to an on camera interview but he did acknowledge breaking the provincial health order prohibiting in door religious gatherings

Pastor Loewen said "Dying from COVID-19, it's a material death. Spiritual death is way worse. That is what we are trying to prevent."

The community of about 350 people do have a history with COVID. Northern Health issued a possible exposure notice in August 2020. 
It's not confirmed however if any cases or deaths happened as a result.

CJDC reached to Fort St. John Mayor Lori Ackerman, asking if she was concerned about church members who don't wear masks coming to her city on a weekly basis to shop and interact with business owners, employees and regular citizens. 
Ackerman refused to answer our question directly and instead referred us to the Peace River Regional District for comment.
However we spoke to a city councillor who is very concerned about this story and we're told discussions are in fact happening at the local level.

Const. Neustaeter says it's up to everyone to take the precautions necessary.

"It's just a reminder that we are in a time where everyone is trying to do as much as they can to keep everyone else safe. Again, just keep wearing the mask, wash your hands, keep your circles small."

Last month, the BC Supreme Court upheld the province’s restrictions on religious gatherings, ruling it as a reasonable infringement on religious liberty.

BC's Public Safety Minister, Mike Farnworth, even pleaded with faith leaders about not breaking the law.

"I understand the need for faith, and I understand how faith helps get people through a crisis like this. But at the same time, faith alone isn't going to protect you from the COVID virus."

Churches across BC were encouraged to hold outdoor services instead.
Regarding the Prespatou church, Const. Neustaeter says this isn't the first time police are aware of the church. Police recieved a report in February, an officer did investigate and found a very low number of people. A warning was issued.
The fine for an in person church service is $2,300 for the organizers, while anyone attending an illegal gathering could be fined $575 per person.
While organizers could face fines, police say any individuals would likely not be fined.

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