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CIVIL PROCEDURE - Contempt of court - What constitutes - Punishment

Friday, April 09, 2021 @ 8:11 AM  

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Sentencing hearing for the respondents, convicted of civil contempt. The respondents defied a court order which restrained them from contravening Ontario Regulation 82/20 by holding gatherings of more than 10 persons in conjunction with the operations of Trinity Bible Chapel. The Regulation was enacted in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic. The court found that all three requirements for contempt were established beyond a reasonable doubt. The applicant Attorney General of Ontario sought fines of $25,000 for the Trinity Bible Chapel and $7,500 for each of the personal contemnors, for a total of $70,000. The contemnors asserted that there should be fines of $5,000 for the Trinity Bible Chapel and $1,000 for each of the personal contemnors, for a total of $11,000.

HELD: The contemnors were fined a total of $38,000. There was no previous defiance of the court order and this was the contemnors’ first conviction for contempt. The breach was admitted. This was a case of public, notorious and intentional breach of a court order. There was no apology or demonstration of remorse. The breach occurred with the full knowledge and understanding of the contemnors. The violation of the order had public health risks associated with it. The Regulation was enacted with a view to containing and stopping the spread of COVID-19. Specific deterrence was warranted. The contemnors had not stated that they would unconditionally abide by the order in the future. General deterrence was also at play. The contemnors encouraged others to follow in their conduct and publicly declared their intention not to comply with the order. The respondent Reaume was the senior pastor. He encouraged others to participate in the breach of the Regulation by an online letter. The appropriate fine for him was $5,000. Schuurman was the associate pastor. He wrote in May 2020 that the church should open regardless of whether the government ban was still in place. The appropriate fine for him was also $5,000. Frey was the pastor of Christian education. The appropriate fine for him was $4,000. The other three personal contemnors were directors of the Trinity Bible Chapel. The appropriate fine for each of them was $3,000. The appropriate penalty for the Trinity Bible Chapel was a fine of $15,000.

Ontario (Attorney General) v. Trinity Bible Chapel, [2021] O.J. No. 859, Ontario Superior Court of Justice, P.R. Sweeny J., February 23, 2021. Digest No. TLD-April52021008