Amherst pastor fined $2,422 for church event linked to deadly COVID-19 spike
'I don't understand why only one person has been charged,' Premier Tim Houston says
November 18, 2021, 9:01 am ASTLast Updated: November 18, 2021, 9:01 am
A pastor linked to a spike in COVID-19 cases and three deaths has been fined $2,422, but Nova Scotia’s premier calls that insufficient.
“I’ve asked the compliance team to look at if other people should be fined as well, other leaders that were part of the gathering, and if there’s more times to apply the fine,” Tim Houston said Wednesday in a briefing with reporters.
Robert Smith, pastor of the Gospel Light Baptist Church in Amherst, was deemed responsible for a multi-day public gathering from Oct. 25 to 29. Public health officials said more than 100 people attended and did not present proof of vaccination, which is a violation of public health orders.
Smith was given the maximum personal fine under the Health Protection Act: $2,422.
The fine comes after Smith live-streamed a video of his Sunday sermon on Facebook. In the video, first reported by CBC Nova Scotia, Smith said that deaths associated with the recent COVID spike are part of God’s plan.
“People are trying to shame us, but I’ll never be ashamed of what I do for Christ,” Smith said in the video, now deleted from Facebook.
Houston denounced the pastor’s comments.
“The comments minimizing the loss of life are completely unacceptable and totally disgusting. Lives were lost,” Houston said. “I can’t imagine that at this stage in the pandemic, with the devastation we’ve seen to families and to communities that we have people who believe that they can pick and choose which rules they follow.”
Houston described this as primarily a compliance issue.
“My gut tells me that whatever rules were in place, this particular group of people would have simply done what they wanted,” he said.
The Department of Environment and Climate Change fined Smith as “kind of a backstop to police,” Houston said, referencing the lack of action taken by the Amherst Police Department.
“I don’t understand what took so long. And I don’t understand why only one person has been charged,” Houston said.
On Wednesday, the Liberals called on the premier to require COVID proof of vaccination at all faith-based gatherings.
“It’s time for the government to draw a line in the sand. People absolutely have the right to worship, but not at the risk of public safety,” Liberal leader Iain Rankin said in a news release.
Dr. Robert Strang, the province’s chief medical officer of health, said looking at the number of regular faith services occurring each week, none of them have been major factors in COVID transmission.
He said this group is an exception and does not represent the majority of faith organizations.
“There’s been some outliers and we need to deal with outliers but not paint everybody in the faith community with the same brush, because the epidemiology does not justify taking a broad-brush approach to this,” Strang said.
20 new cases
Nova Scotia reported 20 new cases of COVID on Wednesday, including eight in the central zone, six in the northern zone and six in the western zone. There are currently 236 active cases.
Strang said the western zone outbreak is contained to the people who attended the Gospel Lights gathering and their immediate contacts.
As of Wednesday, 80.6 per cent of the population is double vaccinated.
The province also announced that booster shot bookings will start Nov. 23. The bookings will be eligible for anyone 70 or older, anyone who received two doses of AstraZeneca, and frontline health-care workers who were double vaccinated with an interval of fewer than 28 days between their first and second dose.
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