Quebec government orders three Jewish Orthodox schools in Montreal to shut down

The Quebec government has issued formal notices to three Jewish Orthodox schools to stop holding classes immediately after they were found to be openly defying the order to shut down. 

The Ministry of Education confirmed Monday afternoon that it has sent the legal notices, but did not name the schools that were notified. 

With the latest suite of public health measures shutting down schools, bars, gyms and other public settings in Quebec, questions were being raised as to why authorities were not intervening in schools and places of worship that are choosing to remain open.

On Monday, students filed into classes at a Jewish Orthodox school in Côte-des-Neiges through a side door in an alleyway.

A letter to parents obtained by CTV News suggests the school clearly knows it’s breaking the rules.

“The front entrance to the elementary school is NOT TO BE USED for drop off OR pickup,” the letter stated.

“It is best that they do not wear backpacks as this will draw unnecessary attention.”

Last week, CTV News reported on another nearby Jewish school that was staying open in defiance of the rules, as well as a church, Good News Chapel in Saint-Leonard, that held an illegal mass on Sunday.

Its pastor has openly defied public health restrictions, even though at least two people died following an outbreak at the church on Couture Boulevard.

Montreal police were outside as the service took place Sunday, but did nothing. Many people are wondering why that was, when rampant infections are filling Montreal hospitals to the breaking point.

“Before we have more of these potential patients coming from schools, whether they be private or public, these churches, whatever the religion is, before we have these potential patients coming in, I would want the authorities to sanction and make sure the rule is applied to everyone," said Paul Brunet, a patients’ rights advocate.

"Because we need all those beds."

Montreal police say when it comes to COVID-19 measures, they have very specific powers granted by public health. For example, they can ticket someone for breaking curfew.

But for most other alleged infractions, like those at a church or school, police say they can only take notes and pass them on to the Crown prosecutors' office, which decides whether fines will be issued or charges laid.

The approach taken by Montreal is in contrast to that taken by the counterparts in Laval. On Sunday, police there were tipped off that almost 40 people were gathering inside the Colisée de Laval arena. Police in that city didn't hesitate to go in and shut down the gathering.

“It’s something illegal, so you cannot continue doing what you’re doing when you’re not supposed to," said Stephanie Beshara, a spokesperson for Laval police.

"You’re supposed to stop immediately the illegal gathering and activity."

Laval police say prosecutors will still decide if there will be fines or charges.

Asked about the Côte-des-Neiges school defying the rules, one man told CTV he didn't have a problem with it. 

“Practicing religion is an essential thing,” he said outside the school. 

In a statement, Quebec’s public security minister, Genviève Guilbault, appealed to religious leaders to ensure their communities respect the rules and to do their part to get this fifth wave of the pandemic under control.

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