Toronto church challenges lockdown gathering limits in court as being unconstitutional
Toronto Celebration Church is challenging the provincial lockdown rule that prohibits no more than 10 people to gather for in-person religious services during the city's second lockdown.
The North York church claims the gathering limit, which came into effect two weeks ago after another spike in COVID-19 cases, is unconstitutional and violates its right to freedom of religion under the Charter.
"We understand the government has to make difficult decisions, but on the issue of religious observance we don't believe they gave enough consideration to the constitutional element or the importance of religious worship – and instead favoured secular activities over religious ones," Peter Youngren, who founded the church in 2000, told blogTO.
He went on to say church fellowship is especially essential now.
"Many people who have the technology to watch online services say they lack the same fulfillment they receive from in-person worship."
They pushed back with a notice of motion for an emergency injunction on Tuesday and have asked that the request be heard ahead of their next service this coming Sunday.
The court notice notes that the limit of 10 people reduces numbers by 99 per cent for the 31,000-square-foot church that previously held close to 1,100 people every service.
Although the affidavit acknowledges the seriousness of the pandemic, it argues that the church and its congregants would suffer "irreparable harm" if the restriction stands.
The church is requesting to continue to operate at 30 per cent capacity as they were doing previously under the red or "control" category over the summer.
The request is on behalf of the single church alone and not of all religious organizations, adding that it has "already demonstrated a record of abiding by public health guidelines and safely offering religious services."
Youngren says precautions were in place at the church when they were able to welcome more members, including sanitizing stations, temperature checks, mask-wearing, and adherence to social distancing.
The filing comes at the same time as COVID-19 case counts surge and health officials urge hotspot residents to stay home over the holidays.
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