Asymptomatic testing will now be available for "priority groups" who are most likely to spread the COVID-19 virus to vulnerable or at-risk populations. File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS

Manitoba judge rules church can’t hold drive-in services forbidden by health order

WINNIPEG — A Manitoba judge has rejected a church’s request to hold drive-in services despite the province’s COVID-19 restrictions.

Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Glenn Joyal says the church has not shown any irreparable harm from having to hold services online instead of in a parking lot.

Joyal held a special Saturday court hearing in a case brought by Springs Church in Winnipeg, which has faced more than $32,000 in fines in recent weeks.

The church argued a provincial public health order that forbids in-person religious services violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

It asked for a temporary stay of enforcement of the order, so that drive-in services could continue until a full hearing on the Charter issue could be held.

A lawyer for the government told court the ban on in-person religious services is part of an effort to reduce public gatherings, which is needed to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Joyal’s ruling comes as COVID-19 cases and deaths continue to climb across the province.

Manitoba is reporting 354 new diagnoses of the virus and a record-high 19 associated deaths over the past 24 hours.