A church facing charges for exceeding provincial gathering limits said it will now only have services of a maximum of 10 people.
Bylaw enforcement officers laid charges in connection to a gathering at a church in Woolwich Township on Thursday.
The bylaw officers and members of Waterloo regional police responded to complaints of an in-person gathering at a place of worship on Jan. 3. The charges were laid under the Reopening Ontario Act for exceeding indoor gathering limits. Religious services are capped at 10 people indoors and outdoors.
Six people and the church corporation, which is located on Lobsinger Line, were charged. Two people were also charged for attending a gathering with more than 10 people. There were nine charges laid in total.
Regional officials confirmed to CTV News Kitchener that the charges were laid at Trinity Bible Church.
Six members of the church were also charged for exceeding gathering limits on Dec. 31.
Fines range from $10,000 to $100,000 for people hosting a gathering over the size limit, the region said.
The total charges could add up to more than $10 million if found guilty for the maximum fine.
Criminal lawyer Ari Goldkind said the high fine value is meant to send a message.
"It would make it clear from a corporate point of view, you better close up quickly or there may be no church left," he said.
In a release on Friday night, church officials said they won't hold gatherings of more than 10 people until the end of the provincial lockdown.
They said they will also hold drive-in services and people are asked to remain in their vehicles.
The church said the decision was made after advice from their legal team.
Goldkind said the church would have faced more charges if they'd decided to keep hosting gatherings.
"For each new day of new offending gatherings being over the 10-person limit, that counts as a new count of actions they can be charged with," he said.
"We know that this decision is heartbreaking for the many people who have found hope during our church services and who are also already burdened with despair by the destructive measures of our government," a statement from the church said in part.
With files from CTV News Kitchener's Zayn Jinah and Jeff Pickel