Alymer, Ont., Church of God Pastor Henry Hildebrandt must pay $65,000 in fines after pleading guilty to violating the Reopening Ontario Act in 2021, marking the end of the church’s longstanding legal battle that originally included over $270,000 in fines and other fees.
Pastor Hildebrandt released a statement on X, formerly known as Twitter, following the decision, declaring, “I admitted today to one count of obeying God rather than man. I freely admit that we violated the Reopening Ontario Act, an act which brazenly violated section 2 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”
The charges Pastor Hildebrandt received involved the organization of nine church services between January and June 2021 in Elgin County. These services exceeded provincial gathering capacity restrictions in place under the Reopening Ontario Act, which at the time made it unlawful to gather in groups of more than 25 outdoors and 10 indoors.
On January 8, 2022, Ontario Superior Court Justice Renee Pomerance admitted these restrictions directly violated the religious freedom of the Alymer churchgoers and acknowledged the negative psychological impact of the mandates on their wellbeing. However, she went on to decide that the limits were justified in a free and democratic society and “reasonable under the circumstances.”
Following the refusal of the Supreme Court of Canada to hear an appeal of the decision, Pastor Hildebrandt and the Alymer Church of God accepted a deal that has put an end to their legal turmoil.
Additional charges against the church, the Hildebrandt family, and others who faced fines and court summons as a result of the prohibited gatherings — charges that would have resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars of penalties — were dropped as a part of a joint submission from public prosecutor Jack Huber and Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedom defence lawyer Chris Fleury.
Concluding his reflection on the arduous court journey, Pastor Hildebrandt added this final piece to the puzzle:
As gathering for worship was declared a harmful act to the community in the court today, I, along with the Church of God congregation, offered, in lieu of the fine, to donate $75,000 over the next year to the Alymer Food Bank to make amends to the local community that was most impacted by our actions.
Sadly, this offer was declined outright by the prosecution and the $65,000 fine will be going to the Ontario government, not the local community. This raises the question of whether our actions were a harm to the community or a harm to the government narrative. I’ll let you decide.