EDMONTON (CityNews) – It appears it will take more than stern warnings and cold weather to keep hundreds of Albertans from congregating at a rural church.
GraceLife church, located just west of Edmonton, defied health inspectors again on Sunday by hosting several hundred people for its weekly service.
An estimated 300 people – some without masks – attended the service even after fines were previously issued for non-compliance with public-health orders, such as mask mandates and 15 per cent occupancy limits.
Alberta Health Services (AHS) has been duelling with the church for roughly two months.
RCMP issued a $1,200 fine in December for non-compliance. Mounties were again on the scene Sunday.
The church would not allow CityNews or other media on the property, nor did they take any questions.
A lengthy statement was posted to their website Sunday morning saying they want to address the broader public about their reasons for gathering.
“We believe people should responsibly return to their lives,” read the statement. “Churches should open, businesses should open, families and friends should come together around meals, and people should begin to exercise their civil liberties again. Otherwise we may not get them back.”
Premier Jason Kenney has previously criticized the church for defying orders.
“I’ll leave the enforcement to the enforcement agencies, but I think what they’re doing is sending a terrible message and it’s truly irresponsible,” he said.
Kenney has pointed out that other places of worship seem to have no issue following health measures.
“They don’t need to do this,” he said of GraceLife. “They can spread out their gatherings. That’s what other faith communities are doing. They’re all making sacrifices and they’re still able to exercise their constitutional protected religious freedom.”
AHS has also called the church’s actions “unacceptable.” The health authority says GraceLife is responsible for paying fines previously issues and they may be subject to further action.
–with files from The Canadian Press