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This entry is part 39 of 45 in the series COVID-19.

In less than a week, Ontario has moved from a province-wide shutdown to a province-wide stay-at-home (SAH) order and a new declaration of emergency. The declaration of emergency is effective immediately; the SAH order is effective as of 12:01 am on April 8, 2021.

The SAH order allows Ontarians to leave their homes for listed purposes only.

One of those is to attend a gathering for the purposes of a wedding, funeral or religious service, rite or ceremony that is permitted by law. It also includes making necessary arrangements for the purposes of such a gathering (section 24).

What is permitted by law? The government’s info page about zones and restrictions and its info page about enhanced measures both indicate that religious gatherings, weddings and funeral services will remain at 15% capacity indoors or unlimited capacity outdoors, subject to physical distancing rules. This is the same as the current religious gathering rules in the “shutdown zone” regulation (O.Reg 82/20). While the government website has been updated, the actual regulation has not – the last update was April 3, 2021.

Going back to the SAH order, let’s look at why else are people allowed to leave their homes:

  • Work & Volunteering – “where the nature of the work or volunteering requires” it, including when an employer has determined the nature of the work requires attendance at the workplace (section 1); remember that the default according to the regulation is to work from home (schedule 1, s 2.1)
  • School & childcare (sections 2-4)
  • Obtaining goods and services (sections 5-11)
  • Assisting others – “delivering goods or providing care or support or assistance to an individual who requires support or assistance, or receiving support or assistance” (sections 12-14)
  • Health, safety & legal purposes (sections 15-18) – including exercising and using outdoor recreational facilities that are allowed to open
  • Moving residences or between multiple residences or travel (sections 19-23)
  • Gatherings – individuals living alone can gather with members of a single household (section 25)
  • Animal care and services (sections 26-29)

The SAH order does not apply to homeless persons. The SAH order also clarifies that it does not prevent individuals from accessing their backyards or common areas of communal residences that are open, including lobbies.

Like the rules for religious gatherings, the government information site lists the enhanced public health and workplace safety measures for other permitted activities, but the relevant parts of the “shutdown zone” regulation have yet to be updated accordingly.

The SAH order has been issued because “the COVID-19 situation is at a critical stage and we must act quickly and decisively to stay ahead of these deadly new variants.”  The latest data about variants of concern (“VOC”) can be found in the Ontario Ministry of Health Daily Summary (pages 14-16). Declarations of emergency are issued under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act; they are to be terminated after two weeks unless the Lieutenant Governor in Council extends it or declares it to be over. Given that the SAH order is to be in place for 4 weeks, the declaration of emergency will be extended.

Members looking to chat with other church and ministry leaders about challenges and opportunities during times of shutdown, emergency declarations, and SAH orders, can join our online discussions in The Green!

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Noteworthy is provided for general information purposes and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Every organization’s circumstances are unique. Before acting on the basis of information contained in this blog, readers should consult with a qualified lawyer for advice specific to their situation.

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