The minister of a Steinbach-area church that has openly defied public health orders remained a free man Tuesday, five days after a warrant had been issued for his arrest.
Church of God (Restoration) minister Tobias Tissen was among six people named in a cluster of arrest warrants issued May 27 by the province’s public safety investigation unit for repeated breaches of public health orders.
By Saturday, police had taken four of the six accused into custody, including retiree and lockdown opponent Gerry Bohemier, 71, Hugs over Masks organizer Sharon Vickner, 53, and anti-lockdown rally organizers Todd McDougall, 36, and Patrick Allard, 39. All four were quickly released on bail.
High-profile lockdown opponent Chris Saccoccia of Ontario cancelled an appearance at a protest rally at The Forks May 28 after learning about the warrant for his arrest.
Church of God (Restoration) held a service Sunday in defiance of a public health order banning all indoor and outdoor gatherings with people not from the same households.
"It’s been a good, amazing turnout today and we had a wonderful service," Tissen said in a video interview posted on the Winnipeg Alternative Media Facebook page. "I didn’t expect that it would go this smoothly, but it did and God kept us safe. Since (police) didn’t take me here, we are going to keep on making it hard for them. We want them to take me right here."
The RCMP did not respond to a Free Press interview request Tuesday.
Kenneth MacKendrick, an associate professor with the University of Manitoba’s religious studies program, suggested police might have a very good reason for not arresting Tissen at church: the optics would be "terrible."
"If police went in to arrest a minister… it generally looks really, really bad, because you have somebody who is going to be down on their knees with a bible and praying," MacKendrick said. "We view that activity with a great deal of respect and probably some degree of appreciation. So when someone is in that position, and then police come in and arrest them, it looks terrible. Nobody feels good about that kind of thing, arresting a priest. So you can totally understand why (police) would be pretty hesitant."
Religious leaders have a long history of "taking to the streets" in support of a cause, such as the women’s movement or civil rights, but religious convictions "shouldn’t entitle someone to extraordinary protection," MacKendrick said.
"I think in this situation, some people are maybe puzzled by what appears to be such a non-commonsensical position and maybe frustrated by that as well," he said. "So on the one hand you have respect, reverence and appreciation, and celebration of religion and diversity, and at the same time some public concern about ‘is this the right position for them to be taking?’ I think we are hesitant to say something because we respect people’s choices to make private decisions and to have convictions."
A minister in Tissen’s position would be well aware his arrest in church would garner national or international attention, MacKendrick said.
"Religion or religious faith can be used as a shield, you can use that respect and reverence that people have and manipulate that for political gain," he said.
Tissen posted a video to his Facebook page recorded by a neighbour Monday showing RCMP officers — who he called "Gestapo" — arriving at his home around 11:15 a.m.
"Is there any reason I would be home at that time?" Tissen wrote, adding authorities had been "spying" on his house for three hours before knocking on his door.
Someone once said a journalist is just a reporter in a good suit. Dean Pritchard doesn’t own a good suit. But he knows a good lawsuit.