Prince Albert church at centre of COVID-19 outbreak fined $14,000

A photo originally posted to Facebook has been digitally altered to blur the faces of attendees. The photo shows a religious gathering held at the Full Gospel Outreach Centre in Prince Albert. Photo by facebook /Regina Leader-Post

Prince Albert’s Full Gospel Outreach Centre, which has been linked to a gospel revival outreach event tied to dozens of cases of COVID-19 in multiple communities, has been fined $14,000.

The province announced a $14,000 fine for a corporation for non-compliance with the public health act order and reopen Saskatchewan guidelines for places of worship Sunday. That amount includes a $10,000 fine and a $4,000 surcharge.

The province didn’t provide the location or name of the business, but the centre’s pastor, Vern Temple, confirmed over the phone that a fine had been levied against the centre. He declined to comment further.

He added that he felt his last comments, reported by CBC last week, had been taken out of context and that he didn’t like the way he had been portrayed.

“They put words in my mouth and I didn’t agree with what they wrote about me,” he said.

Several Facebook accounts linked to the Full Gospel Outreach Centre posted about the fine. The posts asked people to come together to help Temple pay the $14,000.

Last Tuesday night, then again on Wednesday, the Saskatchewan Health Authority released a COVID-19 exposure alert about a business in Prince Albert — Prince Albert Gospel Outreach Church at 921 Central Ave. The exposure covers Sept. 14 to Oct. 4.

At least 25 cases have been tied to the event to date.

Last week the evangelist who presided over the services, Ian Lavallee, told CBC News when the outbreak was first announced that the church wasn’t aware of provincial places of worship guidelines advising against singing and requiring those who do to wear masks.

Photos from the event show dozens of people worshipping in a small, enclosed space. Few are wearing masks.

Prince Albert Mayor Greg Dionne and Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation Chief Peter Beatty both called on the SHA to levy fines against the church.

“I’m very concerned,” Dionne said told the Herald Thursday. “It’s all over the province that we were the cause of a super spreader event. I will be demanding charges be laid. If we would have known about it, we would have taken immediate action and shut it down.”

Dionne said he had reached out to Temple, who assured him the centre was shut down for the time being. Dionne said he physically checked himself, walking over to the Central Ave. location and ensuring the doors were locked.

“I’m going to be asking (SHA) to throw the book at it,” Dionne said.

“The only way we’re going to stop this is if people follow the rules. It’s so disappointing. We were doing so well. Everyone was following the rules.”

While much of the blame has been placed on organizers, Saskatchewan’s Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab said last week that event attendees also bear some responsibility for failing to socially distance or wear masks.

 “Everyone who attends also has to follow guidelines,” he said.

“It is the responsibility of all of us to adhere to them, not just organizers of an event.”

 He added that places of worship, to this point, have not been linked to any major outbreaks of COVID-19.

“Places of worship have been open since March. We have not seen problems in places of worship because they have been very diligent and conscientious,” Shahab said. “That has kept our case numbers low. This is a reminder for all of us that our guidelines have served us really well. COVID is still in Saskatchewan, in Canada and we have to do everything we can to keep our numbers low.”