Statistics Canada has reported a sharp decline in attendance for churches and other religious services since the outbreak of the pandemic when the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) recommended canceling masses and prayer meetings.
“Among the population as a whole the proportion of people who participated in group religious activity at least once a month decreased from 23 to 19 percent, ” said StatsCan report The Impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic on the Religiosity of Canadians.
11 percent of Canadians 15 and older said they prayed weekly at home or participated in another personal religious practice. Some people reported that because of the pandemic they prayed more or their faith grew stronger, researchers wrote.
On March 30 2020, the Conference of Catholic Bishops joined Protestant, Jewish and Muslim leaders in issuing a Message to Canadians that urged people to “rightly heed the precautions of physical distancing.” Doctors and nurses “provide us with a powerful witness of care, expertise and service in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic,” said the message.
Members of the Christian, Muslim, Jewish, and Buddhist faiths said their personal attendance at religious gatherings declined in the first year of the pandemic. Among those who reported having fair or poor general health, the proportion who participated in a religious activity at least once in the previous year fell from 43% in 2019 to 34% in 2020.
Provincial bans on gatherings affecting masses prompted numerous unsuccessful legal challenges by Christian advocacy groups. The Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench upheld lockdown orders that limited attendance at funerals and baptisms to a maximum of five people.
“The pandemic’s presence in Manitoba demanded decisive action in order to reduce the spread of the virus and in order to flatten the curve,” wrote Chief Justice Glenn Joyal. “Manitoba is not exaggerating when they state lives were at stake.”
On March 16 2020 the Ontario government ordered the closing of churches and other faith based organizations. While federal guidelines for essential workers directed that those deemed to be providing essential services to Canadians, including bankers, realtors, grocery store employees, and take-out restaurant workers, would continue in those roles largely without restriction, priests, ministers, rabbis and imams were not listed as essential.