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Toronto church loses interim injunction over religious gatherings under COVID-19 lockdown

Last Updated Dec 19, 2020 at 12:27 pm EST

The pastor of Toronto church challenging provincial orders that limit gatherings for religious services as unconstitutional says a decision Friday to deny an interim injunction is a “partial victory and a partial loss.”

Pastor Peter Youngren of the Toronto International Celebration Church filed an application earlier this month, arguing the provincial order limiting in-person services to no more than 10 people violates religious freedoms and does not represent a tailored response to the current COVID-19 crisis.

Youngren said he is not a COVID-19 denier but pointed out limiting his 1,100 seat auditorium to a maximum attendance of 10 “doesn’t seem equitable” when non-essential businesses are entitled to operate at 50 per cent capacity.

Following a four-hour hearing on Friday, Ontario Superior Court Justice Breese Davies denied the church’s interim injunction, saying the restrictions are needed to protect the public from the very real and ongoing threat of COVID-19. However, she said a final decision on if the provincial guidelines infringed on the church’s freedom of religion would be argued in the new year.

“The first verdict is in and it’s a partial victory and a partial loss but we are on our way to something very significant for religious freedom in Canada,” said Youngren in a statement posted on YouTube.

Youngren added while the judge agreed with his argument that the law does irreparable harm when religious freedoms are impaired, “she was not willing to go as far as allowing us to have full Christmas services even at 30 per cent capacity.”

Youngren says they plan to offer a “drive-in service” on Christmas Eve in the parking lot of the church.

Catholic churches and a Jewish group brought a similar action in New York State, challenging those restrictions, and it was ultimately approved by the U.S. Supreme Court.