Montreal police say they intervened in over a dozen places of worship Saturday

Montreal police (SPVM) officers were very busy Saturday into the evening putting an end to more than a dozen alleged illegal gatherings, that they say were in violation of public health measures to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

"During the afternoon and evening, the SPVM intervened in 11 places for alleged violations of the decree," said SPVM spokesperson Caroline Chevrefils.

On Saturday morning, the police confirmed their intervention at the sites of three other illegal gatherings in synagogues and "places of worship" in the metropolis since the day before.

After the first much-publicized wave of interventions, the SPVM set up "a security service in the Outremont and Plateau-Mont-Royal boroughs."

The police were therefore very present and visible on the ground in order to make people aware of their obligations, but also in the hope of being a deterrent.

Fines for violating health measures range from $ 1,500 to $ 6,000.

"Violations were found in nine locations. The body responsible for each of these places will be the subject of a general infraction report submitted to the DPCP," said Chevrefils.

A total of 223 offenders were identified at these nine locations and they could be fined if the Director of Criminal and Penal Prosecutions (DPCP) approves general offence reports targeting them.

Statements of offences were also distributed on the spot, Chevrefils explained.

"Fifteen tickets were issued for illegal indoor assembly and a ticket was issued for non-compliance with the curfew," she said

CONFUSION OVER REGULATIONS

In a statement issued in the evening, the Council of Hasidic Jews of Quebec said it regretted that "some members of the communities did not comply with public health directives limiting to ten the number of people who can be present at the same time in the same place of worship."

However, the council criticized the SPVM for misinterpreting the government decree and the protocol established by the CNESST with those responsible for places of worship.

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," the council said. "This ignorance of the regulations put in place by the police authorities adds to the confusion."

Ministery of Health and Social Services spokesperson Marjorie Larouche said the interreligious table of Quebec was told of the health measure change.

"Decree 2021-003 allows a maximum of 10 people to be part of the assembly of a place of worship, except during a funeral ceremony in which case the limit of people is 25," she wrote in an email.

Larouche added that a representative of the Hasidic community was notified of the rule change. 

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) tweeted Sunday condemning the actions of those that broke the rules to gather.

"The Jewish community with one voice condemns the events of the past 24 hours in Outremont," the tweet reads. "The actions of a small fraction of the Hasidic community are totally unacceptable."

Un message de la @FederationCJA et @CIJAQC :
La communauté juive condamne d’une seule voix les événements des dernières 24 heures à #Outremont. Les actions d’une petite fraction de la communauté hassidique sont totalement inacceptables. #polqc pic.twitter.com/HRyrtRQCD8

— CIJA-Qc (@CIJAQC) January 24, 2021

SEPARATE PRAYER ROOMS

Several Hasidic people who watched their synagogue around the corner, despite some reluctance, agreed to speak with a representative of The Canadian Press in the early afternoon.

All refused to be recorded when answering questions, explaining that they are prohibited from doing so because of the Sabbath, the day of rest which falls on Saturday, on the seventh day of the Jewish week.

A young Hasidic person said the synagogue was divided into "separate rooms" that could accommodate "a maximum of ten people," before being told in Hebrew by an older man not to answer journalists' questions.

"There are plenty of rooms," insisted another person.

Another passerby told the group that he supported them and that "they" (the police) were behaving like Nazis.

The oldest man in the group said "all the rules" of public health are being followed. 

-- this report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 24, 2021.

-- with reporting from CTV News Montreal.

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