You can hit the drive-thru for something to eat or idle in a store parking lot waiting for curbside pickup but you can't drive through a holiday light show or sit in a vehicle and take in a worship service.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 2/12/2020 (321 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

You can hit the drive-thru for something to eat or idle in a store parking lot waiting for curbside pickup but you can't drive through a holiday light show or sit in a vehicle and take in a worship service.

Many Manitobans are frustrated by the COVID-19 rules and questioning the rationale behind them. Some are going to court for answers.

"I'm fired up," said Garth Rogerson, chief executive officer of the Red River Exhibition, which has asked the province several times to reconsider restrictions prohibiting the annual CanadInns Winter Wonderland drive-thru light festival from opening on Nov. 21.

Lorraine and Greg Stuart with their children Cruz and Eden attend a drive-in service at Springs Church.

SUPPLIED

Lorraine and Greg Stuart with their children Cruz and Eden attend a drive-in service at Springs Church.

"Drive-in church was my family’s only outing of the week," said Lorraine Stuart, who attended Springs Church services with her husband and kids, ages four and six.

"If people were getting out of their cars, opening windows and using washrooms, then yes, drive-in should be banned," but they’re not, she said. "It’s very frustrating."

Springs Church has established a war chest for online donations to pay for tickets and challenge the ban on drive-in services. No one at the church responded to an interview request.

"We will be challenging this ruling in court," senior pastor Leon Fontaine said in a video posted online Wednesday. Court documents show the church received five $5,000 fines for holding drive-in services Nov. 22 and Nov. 28-29, while pastors Leon and Zach Fontaine received six $1,296 fines.

Leon Fontaine said his church has complied with COVID-19 regulations.

"We all have a role to play in combating the spread," he said in the video.

What the church opposes are rules allowing people to enter liquor, cannabis and big-box stores but not sit in their vehicles with the windows rolled up for services. Fontaine said he's reached out to Health Minister Cameron Friesen "to find a positive path forward" to no avail.

"We believe that Manitobans can have their right to practise their faith upheld while simultaneously upholding COVID-19 prevention rules," he said.

The church's application seeking an interim stay of the public-health order will be heard in a Winnipeg court Thursday morning.

Leon Fontaine, a senior pastor at the church, invited parishioners to drive to Springs Church's parking lot to watch the service on a large video screen.

DANIEL CRUMP / FREE PRESS FILES

Leon Fontaine, a senior pastor at the church, invited parishioners to drive to Springs Church's parking lot to watch the service on a large video screen.

In the court of public opinion, Premier Brian Pallister was asked Tuesday to explain the rationale for prohibiting drive-in events while consumers can wait in parking lots for curbside pickup of retail goods.

"Well, you're picking up a head of lettuce at the stores because we've eliminated the ability to sell anything but essential goods. I think that would be a pretty hard thing to prohibit," Pallister told reporters without acknowledging that non-essential goods are being sold by retailers offering curbside pickup and delivery.

"We did allow drive-in-type (church) services in the spring," the premier said. "Dr. (Brent) Roussin and his team made the recommendation we go a little harder as of last week or 10 days ago and so we have," he said, deferring to Manitoba's chief public health officer for further explanation. In the past, Roussin has said he has concerns about people getting out of their vehicles at drive-in services to gather or use washrooms.

"If anyone’s been to drive–in (services) they know it is life–changing and powerful in a time when our world needs to be lifted up." – Lorraine Stuart

At a media briefing Wednesday, Roussin didn't say no when asked if he would consider allowing drive-in church services.

"We're always reviewing those rules," he said. "We know that these current orders expire Dec. 11 so we'll need to be re-implementing some sort of restrictions at that point, so we're reviewing all sorts of issues with these current orders."

Stuart said the church service is meeting a need for many that can't be filled sitting at home and watching a screen.

"It’s a place people can stop in if they just need a little bit of hope, a pick-me-up, a positive message in person while in their car with hundreds of others just like them, imperfect struggling people," she said. "If anyone’s been to drive-in (services) they know it is life-changing and powerful in a time when our world needs to be lifted up."

Red River Exhibition CEO Garth Rogerson says Manitobans would benefit from something bright and safe during the dark winter days such as motoring through Winter Wonderland.

PHIL HOSSACK / FREE PRESS FILES

Red River Exhibition CEO Garth Rogerson says Manitobans would benefit from something bright and safe during the dark winter days such as motoring through Winter Wonderland.

Do you appreciate the extensive faith coverage by the Free Press? Become a supporter of the Religion in the News project! Your contribution of $10, $25 or more can help us keep offering trusted coverage of faith in Manitoba. Become a supporter Click here to learn more about the project.

Given the premier's acknowledgement Tuesday that code-red restrictions will likely have to remain in place beyond their Dec. 11 expiration, Manitobans would benefit from something bright and safe during the dark winter days such as motoring through the touchless, contactless Winter Wonderland, said Rogerson.

But he's not optimistic that the show will be allowed to go on.

"If they approve us, maybe they'll get flooded (with requests) and have to approve everybody," he said.

He said businesses are allowed to operate drive-thru restaurants and curbside pickup so they survive the pandemic.

"We still need to survive," Rogerson said of the non-profit Ex. "Why are we being excluded from operating our business?"

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.

   Read full biography