A Winnipeg church has been fined $9,000 in relation to a college graduation ceremony last year which it now admits broke public health orders in Manitoba.
Springs Church posted pictures of a grad ceremony for its Springs College students on May 20, 2021. It quickly sparked controversy in the province as tight restrictions were in place for public gatherings at the time due to COVID-19.
At the time the church's pastor, Leon Fontaine, said that the ceremony was in compliance with the health orders. "This class from Orientation to Graduation was 18 students, well under the 25 limit. These students remained physically distanced and remained in the same cohort throughout the school year," he said in a press release on May 22, 2021.
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The church also said in a later statement that the Springs College activities pictured were a misunderstanding and was a TV shoot with attendees in the parking lot. "I want to emphasize that this was a closed set and at no time were members of the public in attendance to this TV shoot inside our studio," Fontaine said at the time. "All attenders to the event from the public were watching it outside in their vehicles in our parking lot on our LED screen, in compliance with the Manitoba Health Orders."
However, on Monday, May 9, 2022, the church pleaded guilty to one count of violating the Public Health Act, the Winnipeg Free Press reports. The judge handed down a $9,000 fine to the church in sentencing on Tuesday.
Pastors Leon and Zach Fontaine as well as the church were facing other charges which were stayed as part of a plea deal. Those charges were in relation to the church holding drive-in worship services in November 2020.
With files from Libby Giesbrecht & Taylor Brock.