On March 30, state politicians made a presentation at the Ohio House State and Local Government Committee hearing. The presentation pertained to the state of religious freedom in Canada. Representatives Reggie Stoltzfus and Timothy E. Ginter, along with eleven co-sponsors, presented House Resolution 194 (you can read the resolution here and track its progress here). It is a resolution that, if passed, will urge the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom to add Canada to the special watch list of countries that engage in violations of religious freedom. That watch list already includes corrupt and tyrannical nations like Cuba and Algeria. It eventually could include Canada. You can view the presentation here (it runs from 1:20 – 17:50).
March 30 was the first hearing, and the second hearing will likely be May 18 or 25, when testimonies of persecuted Canadian pastors will be heard. I have already submitted my own personal testimony of persecution, and I anticipate that my testimony will be read at that second hearing. After all, Trinity Bible Chapel and her elders have been forced to pay approximately $220,000 in fines to the Province of Ontario because we gathered for worship. Personally, I still have over a million dollars in maximum fines unresolved before the courts hanging over my head, and most of our elders still have hundreds of thousands of dollars in maximum fines before the courts. The church itself has tens of millions of dollars in potential fines unresolved, and the charged elders each still face potential prison time. With stealing our money, the Province of Ontario, with Premier Doug Ford at the helm, also stole our building. From April, 2021 until the end of August, 2021, the government had possession of our church facility. During that time, the facility developed a water leak that remained undetected, and we were left with the pricy restoration bill. Some members of our church are now scheduled to be in court next month for charges related to attending church last year. Police have setup perimeters around our church during services, police have chased us down on the road after services, police have spied on our families with binoculars and video surveillance while we have entered and departed church, and police have visited our homes at night with charges and tickets. All of this was because we gathered for Christian worship.
Ohio is a state that is only separated from Ontario by Lake Erie, but it seems like a world away. During the COVID lockdowns, the State of Ohio recognized the essential value of church and exempted churches from COVID related policies. Now, Ohio politicians are advocating for our church and other persecuted churches across Canada.
Representatives in Ohio are speaking on behalf of persecuted Christians in Ontario and Canada, and by that they are doing more than our own local MPP Mike Harris Jr., has done. That doesn’t take much because he has done nothing. Mr. Harris stood silent when our local health director Dr. Hsui-Li Wang targeted local Mennonite communities, arbitrarily, with power granted by his government, ordering their churches closed before any other churches were ordered closed. His government enacted the laws that authorized the persecution against our church. We have been brought before judges and courts more times than I can remember. When I’ve attempted to reach out to Mr. Harris, he’s been stylishly non-responsive. To be clear, I reached out to his office multiple times since all this began in March 2020 offering to work with him to open our church, and nothing of essence was reciprocated. I even articulated our sincerely held religious beliefs for him by sending him this blog prior to all the persecution from his government. Offering not a hint of respect for our sincerely held beliefs, he didn’t even reply. I have never heard from him personally. After our first round of fines, I reached out again on January 28, 2021, with this email:
The church I pastor, Trinity Bible Chapel, opened last Sunday, and we have been found in contempt of court and in violation of the Reopen Ontario Act for opening. Our intent was not to be an offence to others, but much rather we desire to provide hope and joy in an otherwise bleak and despairing time. I believe we were largely successful in that enterprise, even if it came at a personal cost.
I continue to maintain that the service of the church is essential. We provide hope and joy, while contributing to the overall well-being of hundreds of people. I just received a note from a father whose special-needs teenage son was suicidal until he started attending Trinity Bible Chapel in December. The father said our church provided hope to his son so that he began to see things more clearly and positively. The family is now downcast because, due to the excessive measures of the Province, we cannot open this Sunday.
I am wondering if you would consider meeting with me and a few of our leaders to help us advocate to reopen the churches? I note that the UK, Netherlands, Germany, and various states in the USA have churches open during this wave of COVID-19 because they recognize the church as a free institution and also a vital source of goodness for communities in despair. I can provide documentation if you would like.
If you would consider working with us to reopen churches soon, I’d be happy to meet.
On February 2, I received a heartless response from one of his assistants:
Good afternoon Jacob,
I trust this email finds you well. My name is —– and I am reaching out on behalf of MPP Harris. Thank you very much for reaching out to our office regarding your church. As this matter is currently before the courts, it would be inappropriate to meet or otherwise comment at this time.
Wishing you all the best.
She wished me all the best, while her boss’ policy ground the faces of my parishioners and drove some of his constituents to despair of life itself. That was the best he could do. He had an assistant reply with a lame cop-out and some niceties.
To my knowledge the only MPP to speak on behalf of our church in the legislature is MPP Belinda Karahalios from Cambridge. She and Mike Harris were members together of the same caucus, until party brass tossed Mrs. Karahalios out of caucus in the spring of 2020 for opposing the government’s tyranny. She has spoken for our church several times in the legislature, only to receive vacuous none-answers from her former fellow caucus members.
Where our own government and our own MPP have failed to protect us and speak on our behalf, we can be thankful that a neighbouring government in Ohio has begun the process of defending the separation of church and state in Canada, while advocating for the self-governance of churches and the sanctity of the conscience. It’s the neighbourly thing to do, and I’m thankful for good neighbours.