Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Police shutdown large religious gatherings after alleged gathering rule confusion 

Houses of worship have been closed in Quebec red zones but the provincial government is now relaxing the rules.

The province is allowing 10 people to gather in religious buildings – except during a funeral ceremony when 25 are permitted.

However, over the weekend Montreal police had to intervene after several dozen people were found in an Outremont synagogue.

Some in the religious community claim the new rules were confusing and are what led to multiple police interventions at nine Montreal locations – with a total of 223 offenders–over the weekend.

"The restrictions said 'a limit of 10 per places of worship', so it means people can disagree what places of worship means. Does it mean the room where you're worshipping or the building where you're worshipping? Okay, but the cover letter from Bishop Murray did say specifically '10 per building', but I'm not sure everybody saw the cover letter."

"That doesn't mean people were correct in thinking it was always 10 per room. It means that Sunday, after consulting members of the community and others, the directives changed," explained Rabbi Reuben Poupko, co-chair of CJIA.

SPVM spokesperson Constable Véronique Comtois says they were called to an illegal gathering at Hutchison and St-Viateur, where three fines were issued related to the province-wide 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. COVID-19 curfew. An arrest was made and crown prosecutors are now deciding if more fines will be handed out.

"For this event Saturday morning, there were 17 persons in the report and one arrest for obstruction. Then there was another one Saturday morning a little later, and was on Durocher Street. On this one, we have 14 persons that are stated in a general infraction report," explained Comtois.

The Council of Hasidic Jews of Quebec said it regretted that "some members […] did not comply with public health directives," but criticized police for what they say was misinterpreting of the government decree – claiming that these directives "allow the opening of several prayer rooms in the same building as long as this same building has separate entrances on the street." Montreal Police disagree with this interpretation.

But Poupko says it's been difficult for the Hasidic community.

"In the Ultra-Orthodox Hasidic community in Outremont, we're dealing with very large families. I mean 12 and 13 kids is the norm, not the exception, and they're living in four-bedroom upper duplexes. People don't have Netflix, they don't have Disney Plus. People are going bananas when they have two teenagers at home on Zoom."

Despite wanting to partake in religious and other events in person, others disagree with meeting in person and stress the importance of staying safe during the pandemic.

"The more people you have coming together, the higher risk it's going to be. So much of what we do nowadays can be done via video conference as we are proving right now, so a lot of churches a lot of synagogues a lot of religious institutions are live streaming their events. A lot of people can watch it from home. That's probably the safest course of action going forward," explained Dr. Christopher Labos, a Montreal physician.

"When you get together with a group of other people, it doesn't matter why you're doing it. It doesn't matter if it's a good reason, or if it's a bad reason, it doesn't matter if it's a justifiable reason. When you're in close contact with other people there is a risk that you can pass the virus to each other, that you can get sick or infect others."

"We are in a hurry to meet again, to see each other or to be together, and of course, it's demanding. But we need to be patient because in a democracy, democracy is challenging, but it means everyone has to do their part," said Christian Lépine, Archbishop of Montreal.


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