Crown withdraws COVID charges against Pastor Henry Hildebrandt

After realizing it was a waste of time, Crown prosecutors withdrew their COVID charges against Ontario Pastor Henry Hildebrandt and his family for opposing government mandates.

Crown withdraws COVID charges against Pastor Henry Hildebrandt
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Geoff Robins
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On April 3, 2021, Pastor Henry Hildebrandt, with his wife and son, participated in a "No More Lockdowns" rally in Brantford, Ontario. He spoke to roughly 1,000 attendees about their guaranteed Charter rights to worship and assemble. 

The pastor, his wife Martha and son Herbert — who attended the protest as onlookers — received significant fines for participating in a peaceful assembly during the pandemic.

Attendees gathered outside to peacefully protest the arbitrary COVID mandates implemented by the Ontario government, with minimal police presence at the rally. These mandates enforced stay-at-home orders and limits on outside gatherings and worship for healthy Ontarians. 

The Justice Centre wrote Pastor Hildebrandt had no interactions with any of the officers during the protest. However, a procession of law enforcement tagged their vehicle soon after the event. 

"The family's first thought was that a dangerous criminal must be on the loose to warrant so many police cars. The long line of police vehicles had appeared out of nowhere," said the Justice Centre in a statement.

"When the police flashed their lights, the Hildebrandts were shocked to discover that they were the ones that the police were pursuing. The entire police enclave pulled over to the side of the road." 

Pastor Hildebrandt and his family each received an $880 Provincial Offence Notice ticket for attending a gathering of more than five persons.

According to Justice Centre staff lawyers, the police had "ample opportunity" to serve the pastor and his family during the rally. However, they chose to have multiple police vehicles follow and pull him over to serve him and his family the fines.

"At a time when government leaders were decreeing that thousands of people could attend a BLM rally in London, Ontario, over and over again, church congregations were getting tickets for gathering to worship. That's when it became clear that we were dealing with a political rather than a health issue," said Pastor Hildebrandt. 

"COVID mandates are political and not based on science."

However, the courts withdrew the case at a Brantford, Ontario, courthouse on February 27.

"Thank God all charges have been withdrawn after we declined a plea deal," tweeted Pastor Hildebrandt.

"I am encouraged that some Crown Attorneys are beginning to prioritize the prosecution of serious criminal and quasi-criminal offences. Prosecuting individuals such as Pastor Hildebrandt, whose wrongdoing was attending a public rally and giving a speech critical of government policy, has always been a waste of the court's time", said Chris Fleury, counsel representing Hildebrandt. 

Fleury commented that Hildebrandt faces ongoing prosecutions in other jurisdictions, including Elgin County, where his Church resides. 

"We will continue to fight these charges aggressively," he said. 

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), Canadians received $14.8 million in fines for violating federal COVID mandates. However, it's unclear which penalties law enforcement would enforce.

Depending on the offences, the fines ranged from $825 to $5,000. A single ticket could also reference multiple violations. 

Agency data from British Columbia, Ontario, Manitoba and Atlantic Canada revealed that residents received 3,614 tickets under the federal Quarantine Act between January and August. 

Ontario, home to the country's busiest airport and a significant land border crossing with the US, had the most infractions, with 2,672 tickets during that period.

According to PHAC, the most common federal COVID offence in 2022 was travellers entering the country "without a pre-arrival test," garnering at least 1,634 tickets.

Other common offences included outright refusal to answer questions from a public health officer and failure to complete arrival testing. But overall, people driving into the country committed more violations than those who entered by plane.

The PHAC website states Canadians have received nearly 19,000 tickets for federal quarantine violations since March 2020. However, the agency said their data might be incomplete because law enforcement does not have to report enforcement activities of COVID-19 measures and mandates.

"Once issued, ticket payments and challenges are processed by provincial court systems in the relevant jurisdictions," said Health Canada spokesperson Tammy Jarbeau. PHAC said they do not track if those fines get paid.

For 765 of the 3,267 tickets, the individual alleged to have violated the Quarantine Act has been found guilty. Only 97 tickets have been paid, and nearly $300,000 in collected fines.

Ontario's justice department reported that around 1,700 tickets have either been denied or cancelled or remain in progress. Another 638 tickets face ongoing legal disputes in court, leaving more than $3.5 million in outstanding fines.

While law enforcement has levied $9.3 million in fines for violating provincial and federal rules, only roughly $905,000 has been collected.

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