After $14,000 COVID-19 fine, Saskatoon church tells police and government 'agents' to steer clear
SASKATOON -- In a show of defiance, a church in Saskatoon hit with a $14,000 fine for allegedly breaking the province's COVID-19 health order is instructing police to keep away.
On March 11, the Fellowship Baptist Church, in Saskatoon’s Haultain neighbourhood was fined after health inspectors reportedly found the congregation exceeded the gathering limits for places of worship.
On Thursday, a "no trespassing" notice could be seen posted on the front of the church.
The notice warns “agents or contractors of the government including local police" to stay off the premises unless they have a search warrant or permission.
The sign reads “if found trespassing, you will be prosecuted under the applicable trespass act.”
"If found to intend to disrupt religious proceedings or services, you will be charged," the sign reads.
At the time of the fine, the public health order limited church services to a maximum of 30 people.
While the province has routinely identified businesses hit with similar hefty fines, it did not publicly share details concerning the fine last month.
In an email, a government spokesperson said the fine was not included in one of its daily provincial COVID-19 updates by mistake.
CTV News reached out to the church for comment but has not heard back.
"There is a line, and that line is when the authority directs us to move away from the good (God’s moral law and directives for his people) which we have been called to live by and be holy," Pastor Steve Flipin wrote in a post on the church's website dated April 23.
Flippin goes on to say he believes there are circumstances where church is "forced" to "hold to God’s directives."
"We are to be holy, even if it causes government to call us evil, and they will," Flippin said in another part of the post.
In a video posted on the far-right media site Rebel News, Flippin talked more specifically about the fine.
"Here's the thing. Jesus said, come to me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest. He didn't say, come to me the first 30. He didn't say, come to me the first 30 per cent. He said, come all," Flippin told the media outlet.
In the clip, Flippin said he sympathizes with James Coates, the Edmonton pastor who was jailed earlier this year for repeatedly violating Alberta's COVID-19 public health orders.
"If that's where God places me. You know, I will happily go. That's not my desire."
While speaking to reporters at the legislative building on Thursday, the province's health minister Paul Merriman was asked about the church.
"I would ask the church leadership to understand we're not doing this to try to suppress anything from their religious side of things. We just want them to be safe," Merriman said.
"As we've outlined many times is adherence to the public health guidelines, especially (those around) mass gatherings especially indoor mass gatherings, " the health minister said.
"If there is repetitive, non-adherence to the public health orders, we would have to look at taking different steps, but I really don't want to get there. I'm hopeful that they understand why we're doing this," Merriman said.
Epidemiologist Nazeem Muhajarine told CTV News he hopes the church will think twice before defying public health rules.
"I think there’s really no place for that, in a pandemic, and particularly when we are in a third wave … It’s quite troubling to see a group, a faith community like this openly defying public health rules," Muhajarine.said.
“We have learned for 13 months now that social distancing, wearing masks and not congregating in large groups of people who are outside of your household and congregating for long periods of time – 15, 20 minutes really – and in close proximity is a recipe for super spreading events.”
Muhajarine said not following public health orders can have cascading consequences such as infecting more people, leading to more hospitalizations and deaths.