DOCUMENTS AND CORRESPONDENCE
INITIAL LETTER TO OUR PROVINCIAL GOVERNMENT
May 11, 2020
Rev. Dr. Aaron Rock
Rev. Dr. Joe Boot
c/o 2001 Spring Garden Rd.
Windsor, ON N9E 3P8
Hon. Premier Doug Ford
Premier of Ontario
Toronto, ON M7A 1A1
RE: REOPENING ONTARIO CHURCHES
Dear Premier Ford:
Thank you for your continued service to our communities and province and for the tireless effort you have made on all our behalf during the COVID-19 related crisis. We recognize that your role is not easy, and we commend you for your diligent work. We have prayed for you and are grateful for the news that COVID-19 related deaths remain well below what was feared and that the curve has been flattened in many of our communities.
As you may be aware, the Bible and centuries of tradition oblige Christians to gather weekly for worship and witness around the Word of God and sacraments – we need one another to flourish in our service to Christ (Ex. 20:9-11; 1 Cor. 16:1-2; Heb. 10:24-25; Acts 2:42, 20:7). Neither confessional Christian faith nor the Church institute can faithfully exist without a Lord’s Day gathering. This divine obligation and hard-won historic freedom is so important for Christians, that it supersedes all human legislation and regulation. The church is not comparable to a sports or dance club and cannot be dismissed as non-essential by an expert in any field. We would respectfully remind the civil government that the church does not exist by permission of the state, for its establishment and rule is found in Jesus Christ himself. Please remember, the existence and freedom of the church institute long predates the founding of the Christian Dominion of Canada (our Coat of Arms citing Psalm 72:8), so we cannot stress enough how troubling and perplexing these times have been for us. Nonetheless, we are thankful to live in a nation shaped by and indebted to the Christian faith, constitutionally recognizing the supremacy of God in our Charter, and we are grateful for a government that affirms religious freedom. Thank you for continuing to champion religious liberty in Ontario.
Over the past two months, church government has cooperated with civil government by suspending our worship services and mercy ministries, leaving us with the following dilemma: (1) to love our neighbour, as Jesus taught us, by suspending our services to potentially help slow the spread of the virus, or (2) to obey the Word of God which obliges us to meet for worship, sacraments and spiritual ministry to both the healthy and the sick. In weighing this dilemma, whilst seeking to respect civil authority in light of God’s ultimate authority, we rightly chose to voluntarily and temporarily cease meeting. We did so to demonstrate love to our fellow citizens during a time of great uncertainty as well as difficulty for civil authorities working with limited information. As Christians, we do not fear death because of the resurrection hope that is ours through Christ, but we deeply desire to show love to all people.
That said, never in 1500 years of Western history has the Church of Jesus Christ not met for Easter or missed months of worship and ministry – even in times of war or plague far more devastating than COVID-19. Never before has the church been denied the opportunity to be with the sick in the hour of their death. Never before has the church ceased to celebrate the sacraments, pray together, offer counsel to the afflicted, visit the prisoner, officiate weddings and funerals, or fellowship together. The inhumanity of abandoning people in their deepest hour of grief or need is gut-wrenching for followers of Christ.
The consequences of the lockdown on people’s lives are far-reaching. We know as pastors that addictions are resurfacing and that isolation, unemployment and economic ruin are taking their toll on family relationships and physical and mental health. Our service to the poor and disadvantaged in the community has been curbed, with serious implications for the most vulnerable. To save lives are we actually sacrificing lives? In short, we implore you that we must start meeting very soon because of our obligations to God and because our people need us. We cannot delay.
We are committed, faithful and reasonable citizens and desire to be collaborative rather than be perceived as unreasonable people. Many of our members hold prominent positions in society in law, medicine, politics, education and business. As churches, we have researched, read, listened to and discussed all the relevant issues. As such, we would like the provincial government to support the reopening of churches and ministries by early June, pending any unforeseen circumstances. Given the access people have to other services like grocery stores and the recent announcement to open access to retail stores in malls, to garden centres and to other areas of public gathering, this seems like more than a reasonable course of action.
Here is our reasonable plan:
1. To communicate and enforce health protocols in our churches based on the provincial government guidelines.
2. To initially limit access to our services and ministries to approximately 40% of our building capacities to permit physical distancing, expanding that number as circumstances permit. This will allow for plenty of room between persons well beyond two metres in most facilities and acknowledges that not all church facilities have equal capacity.
3. To provide a clean facility including hand sanitizers and wiping down of common surfaces between services.
4. To continue offering online messages as we are able, so that those who are not comfortable or cannot meet in person due to age or health challenges can at least watch from home.
5. To require attendees to explicitly affirm that they have no symptoms, have not travelled out of the country within the last fourteen days and have not been in contact with anyone with the virus in order to attend.
We would humbly request a response from you by May 29th and are very willing to meet with you or consider any further advice you have to offer us. We would also request that the Premier appoint an additional person to the Ontario Jobs and Recovery Committee who can be an ongoing voice for faith groups. We are anticipating a positive response and continued good relationship with civil authorities as we seek to honour our Creator and Saviour in the nation.
You are greatly appreciated and honoured amongst us.
Please note this letter has been cc’d and emailed to:
Premier of Ontario
Deputy Premier of Ontario
Ministry of the Attorney General
Ontario Ministry of Health
EMAIL RESPONSE FROM DOUG FORD
May 20, 2020 3:33 PM
From: Doug Ford <>
Date: Wed, May 20, 2020 at 3:33 PM
Subject: An email from the Premier of Ontario
To: Aaron Rock <email@example.com>
Thank you for your email about religious services. I appreciate hearing your views and concerns. The health and safety of all Ontarians is our government’s top priority. We are taking a responsible and measured approach to safely begin reopening our communities, guided by the advice of public health officials.
During the last several weeks, Ontarians have been called on to make incredible sacrifices to help stop the spread of COVID-19, and our government recognizes the importance that Ontarians place in participating in religious gatherings. That is why on May 19 our government announced that we are allowing drive-in religious gatherings.
We have approved an exemption to the emergency order related to gatherings to allow Ontarians to attend drive-in religious gatherings, under certain conditions to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The conditions include keeping vehicles two metres or more apart, only members of the same household can be in one vehicle, people will not be able to leave their vehicles, and no more than five people can conduct the service at one time from outside a motor vehicle and they must stay at least two metres apart. We continue to take a measured approach to reopening our province and this exemption is another important step forward in that process.
Thanks once again for contacting me.
Premier of Ontario
EMAIL RESPONSE FROM NINA ARRON ON BEHALF OF CMOH
May 21, 2020 1:54 PM
From: CMOH <>
Date: Thu, May 21, 2020 at 1:54 PM
Subject: CMOH-COV-2020-1189 Re: Letter from Ontario Churches
To: firstname.lastname@example.org <email@example.com>
Dear Rev. Drs. Rock and Boot,
Thank you for your May 12 e-mail to Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health (CMOH), regarding the provincial response to the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19). I am writing on behalf of Dr. Williams. Please accept my apologies for the delay in responding.
Nothing is more important than protecting the health and well-being of Ontarians.
Based on the advice of the Chief Medical Officer of Health, the province has enacted a declaration of emergency to stop the spread of COVID-19 and protect the public. The declaration of emergency has been extended until June 2nd, 2020 to allow the government to continue to ensure the province has the necessary tools and health care capacity to contain COVID-19, while gradually reopening businesses, services, and amenities safely.
Additionally, all organized public events of over five people are prohibited, including indoor communal services within places of worship.
On May 19, the government approved an exemption to the emergency order related to gatherings to allow Ontarians to attend drive-in religious gatherings, under certain conditions to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The conditions include keeping vehicles two metres or more apart, only members of the same household can be in one vehicle, people will not be able to leave their vehicles, and no more than five people can conduct the service at one time from outside a motor vehicle and they must stay at least two metres apart.
During this very challenging time, we owe it to our frontline and essential workers, families, friends and neighbours to avoid non-essential travel as much as possible and act responsibly, particularly when we are outdoors. Our actions today will minimize the risk to others and help stop the spread of COVID-19.
Thank you again for writing.
Sent on behalf of Dr. David Williams
Director, Health Protection and Surveillance Policy and Programs
Office of Chief Medical Officer of Health, Public Health
Ministry of Health
LETTER TO DOUG FORD FROM VAAD HARABONIM OF TORONTO
May 22, 2020
Premier Doug Ford
Legislative Building, Queen's Park
Toronto, ON M7A 1A1
Dear Premier Ford:
Re: Your Order Restricting Gatherings - URGENT
We appreciate the diligence with which you have made difficult decisions to save as many souls as possible under the current pandemic environment. It is a difficult job. We thank you for your diligent service to our communities and province and for the tireless effort you have made on all our behalf during the COVID-19 related crisis.
However, as representatives of the Orthodox Jewish Community of Greater Toronto we must write to convey our dismay at the unjustified limitation imposed on our constitutional right to assemble and to practice our faith. Our G-d given rights and traditions of communal prayer spanning thousands of years are guaranteed by our Charter of Rights and Freedoms not to be unjustifiably infringed.
We have watched as you have unilaterally and arbitrarily declared faith groups to be shuttered as “non-essential”, while liquor stores, grocery stores, and marijuana shops remained open. There is no constitutional right to buy liquor and marijuana, but there is a constitutional right to worship and to assemble to practice one’s faith.
We were told that it was necessary to shut down society to “flatten the curve” and protect hospitals from being overrun. That has already been thankfully achieved. Yet we find ourselves as faith groups still under disproportionate restrictions while society around us begins to reopen. People are permitted to “gather” at golf courses, beaches and stores in numbers greater than five, but not in prayer. This is unacceptable.
The Council of Orthodox Rabbis has consulted with legal counsel and been advised that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is the supreme law of the land. The Charter protects the fundamental rights of religion, association and assembly. Those rights have been infringed, and it has become apparent that the infringements are no longer justified.
So-called “drive-in” religious services, which your government has now reluctantly permitted, is of no benefit to us– we are an Orthodox faith that does not permit driving on the Sabbath.
We appreciate the need for our synagogues to protect members and are desirous to implement reasonable safety measures in keeping with those currently being undertaken by retail and other sectors that are reopening.
On May 29, we celebrate the Jewish holiday of Shavuos, a time of joy in receiving the Torah, and which necessitates multiple small group gatherings of individuals in prayer which, is currently not allowed. This is fundamental to the exercise of our faith, and we demand to be included alongside other facilities and businesses in “reopening” on that date, with appropriate safety measures in place. It is crucial that we receive a responsive answer in time to prepare for our important holiday.
We look forward to your prompt response.
With all good wishes we are sincerely yours,
Rabbi Shlomo Miller, Chief Justice, Kollel Toronto,
Rabbi Mordechai Ochs, Chief Justice, Bais Din TzedekToronto,
Rabbi Dovid Shochet, Chief Justice, Vaad Harabonim Toronto,
Rabbi YY Sofer, Chief Justice Adas Yisroel, and Chief Justice, The Chassidic Community of Toronto
cc. Minister of Health Christine Elliott via email: Minister of Finance Vic Fedeli via email: Attorney General Doug Downey via email: MPP Robin Martin via email: Gila Martow via email: Roman Barber via email: