The Justice Minister says while he is seeing issues with churches not following the health orders, alongside them others are stepping up.

In the fall of 2020, Minister Cameron Friesen asked Christians to "be the church." Seven months later, he says the vast majority have been advocating for and following the Public Health Orders, with some exceptions.

"I think in challenges we face as a society in the past, the faith community was often stepping up, to make a difference, to be present," Friesen says.

While the health orders do make it difficult for people to do the same kinds of outreach as before, people are finding ways to still serve others.

"I have been really impressed by the creativity of those church groups, community groups, other groups, non-profit agencies who say 'ok, so how can we help?"

One example the province often uses is Knox United Church, which hosted a walk-in vaccine clinic, for their work reaching out to the community. 

"There is tons of creative thinking out there about how to do it, and I think that is the strength of Manitobans. Their empathy and compassion for others which is on full display for theirs right now."

Friesen says it is difficult to talk about churches and how they have responded to the pandemic because there are "thousands and thousands of people in many denominations attending many many church services."

There are church communities that have taken that dim view of compliance. That they have said they won't be subject to the rules."

He says the explanations for why are more complex. In his constituency, vaccination rates have been low and vocalizations against the orders high.

"We know that in our regional hospital, we have people who fallen into the ICU who fall in that category of not believing it was real and yet nonetheless they are in the hospital, they are in ICU."

Friesen says he is trying to advocate for the orders and vaccinations to his Winkler/Morden constituency. Dr. Joss Reimer, the medical lead of the COVID-19 vaccination task force, says that local leaders like pastors and familiar faces play an important role in making people feel more comfortable in these sites. Many southern Manitoban pastors have spoken out, advocating their communities about vaccines. 

He says obeying the orders matters.

"I think on the opposite side of that, I want to say that many efforts are underway to reach out to those communities, to reach out to address those attitudes of reluctance and suspicion, and to validate what is going on to people. And we put a lot of faith in those efforts that are ongoing."

Friesen says a 'thorough investigation" of Spring College has been completed by Public Health, which is reviewing if "charges are warranted" after social media photos surfaced of an alleged un-masked graduation ceremony. 

"Appearances can be deceiving. They sometimes say a picture is worth a thousand words but those pictures have to be investigated."

Other churches have previously been given non-compliance tickets for holding services with capacity over the province's limit, and one pastor has a warrant out for his arrest.