Dr. Bonnie Henry talk about the next steps in B.C.’s COVID-19 Immunization Plan during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, January 22, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

Dr. Bonnie Henry talk about the next steps in B.C.’s COVID-19 Immunization Plan during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, January 22, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

Dr. Henry hints at gradual return to outdoor, indoor faith services

Kootenay-Columbia MP Rob Morrison calls for a safe re-opening of places of worship

A return to religious gatherings is in the works as outdoor services will be permitted in the coming days, while discussions are underway for a return to in-person activities by April, according to B.C.’s top health official.

Dr. Bonnie Henry, the provincial health officer, made the announcement during Monday’s COVID-19 briefing, noting a process is underway to determine a gradual return to regular indoor in-person faith services.

Dr. Henry says restrictions will be lifted to permit small outdoor religious services in the next few days, while further consultations are underway to permit religious gatherings and observances for Easter and Passover.

“Over the past weeks, we’ve been working on how we can safely reopen in-person faith services, as I know how challenging it has been for many people not to be able to congregate with those who are in their faith community,” said Dr. Henry.

In-person religious services were prohibited following a sweeping order banning indoor gatherings last November amid rising daily COVID-19 case counts.

Kootenay-Columbia MP Rob Morrison has been calling for a return to in-person faith services since late February, and pointed to a recently approved plan from Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe that facilitates a return to indoor faith observances.

Morrison recently sent a letter to Dr. Henry advocating for a similar outcome.

“I would like to thank Minister Dix and Dr. Henry for their efforts to keep our communities safe,” said Morrison, in a statement. “Further, I welcome their leadership as they consider safely re-opening these important community organizations so that places of worship might be positioned to offer the help that is so desperately needed.”

The restrictions on indoor gatherings, particularly involving religious services, has served as a flash point since last fall. Three churches in the Fraser Valley drew media attention by defying the order and holding in-person services, which drew an RCMP presence and resulted in fines of over $18,000.

Earlier this year, a group of petitioners initiated a legal challenge seeking to quash the public health orders prohibiting in-person religious services, while the province sought an injunction that would enforce the public health orders.

In February, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Robert Hinkson ruled that there were other means of enforcement available to the province, noting that an injunction alone — without enforcement by the B.C. Prosecution Service — wouldn’t necessarily sway the religious beliefs of the petitioners or prevent them from continuing in-person services.

Following the court’s decision, Dr. Henry said in a statement that she respected the ruling and expressed confidence that the public health orders were in accordance with the law and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The broader challenge arguing infringed religious freedoms resulting from the orders continued to be argued in the courts, before Hinkson reserved his decision earlier in March.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Elvira D’Angelo, 92, waits to receive her COVID-19 vaccination shot at a clinic in Montreal, Sunday, March 7, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
110 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

Provincial health officers announced 1,005 new cases throughout B.C.

The Creston Valley Hospital's chief of staff squashed any rumours about temporary seasonal workers spreading COVID-19 around town on Aug. 6. Aaron Hemens - Creston Valley Advance
Five active cases of COVID-19 in Creston

There has been a total of 47 cases in the community since January 2020

A new park is under development for the Lower Kootenay Band. Ken White, facility and operations manager, holds up the draft plans with Nasukin Jason Louie on the construction site. (Photo by Kelsey Yates)
Lower Kootenay Band develops plan for new memorial park

The new Kulilu Garden will serve as a memorial for children who died from polio and tuberculosis in the 1930s and 40s

Tala MacDonald, a 17-year-old student at Mount Sentinel Secondary who is also a volunteer firefighter, has won the $100,000 Loran Scholarship. Photo: Submitted
West Kootenay student wins $100K scholarship

Tala MacDonald is one of 30 Canadians to receive the Loran Scholarship

Rainbow trouts thrashing with life as they’re about to be transferred to the largest lake of their lives, even though it’s pretty small. These rainbows have a blue tinge because they matched the blue of their hatchery pen, but soon they’ll take on the green-browns of their new home at Lookout Lake. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
VIDEO: B.C. lake stocked with hatchery trout to delight of a seniors fishing club

The Cherish Trout Scouts made plans to come back fishing soon

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan describe vaccine rollout at the legislature, March 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C. health minister says delay in Moderna vaccine ‘disappointing’

‘The sooner we get vaccines in people’s arms the better, and inconsistency in delivery is a consistent problem. This is simply a reality and not an issue of blame,’ Adrian Dix said Friday

(Police handout/Kamloops RCMP)
B.C. man dies in custody awaiting trial for Valentine’s Day robbery, kidnapping spree

Robert James Rennie, who was on the Kamloops RCMP’s most wanted list, passed away at the North Fraser Pretrial Centre in Coquitlam

Photos of Vancouver Canucks players are pictured outside the closed box office of Rogers Arena in downtown Vancouver Thursday, April 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Canucks games against Leafs postponed as team returns from COVID-19

The team has had 11 games postponed since an outbreak late last month

Danita Bilozaze and her daughter Dani in Comox. Photo by Karen McKinnon
Island woman makes historic name change for truth and reconciliation

Becomes first person in Canada to be issued new passport under the TRC Calls to Action

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops. (Dave Eagles/Kamloops This Week file photo)
RCMP intercept vehicle fleeing with infant taken from Kamloops hospital

The baby was at the hospital receiving life-saving care

Vancouver Police Const. Deepak Sood is under review by the Independent Investigations Office of B.C. after making comments to a harm reduction advocate Sunday, April 11. (Screen grab)
VIDEO: Vancouver officer convicted of uttering threats under watchdog review again

Const. Deepak Sood was recorded Sunday saying ‘I’ll smack you’ and ‘go back to selling drugs’ to a harm reduction advocate

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry prepares a daily update on the coronavirus pandemic, April 21, 2020. (B.C. Government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate persists, 1,005 new cases Friday

Hospitalization up to 425, six more virus-related deaths

Most Read