Montreal public health director apologizes over rule confusion after police raid synagogues

Montreal's director of public health is apologizing to the city's Hasidic Jewish community for creating confusion over rules about religious gatherings.

Members of Hasidic community understood they were allowed to gather 10 per room, but rule is 10 per building

Montreal police were called to a dozen locations over the weekend, issuing tickets for assembling indoors and breaking curfew. (Mathieu Wagner/Radio-Canada)

Montreal's director of public health is apologizing to the city's Hasidic Jewish community for creating confusion over rules on religious gatherings.

City police raided several synagogues over the weekend, identifying at least 12 gatherings that took place since Friday evening. Several tickets were issued, and an additional 223 people may be getting tickets once their cases are reviewed by the province's director of criminal and penal prosecutions (DPCP).

The raids came after the provincial government partially lifted the ban on religious gatherings Thursday, allowing a maximum of 10 people to congregate in churches, synagogues and other places of worship.

The Council of Hasidic Jews of Quebec says Montreal public health officials subsequently informed them the decree meant 10 people could gather per room in a place of worship, and not 10 per building.

On Sunday night, Montreal public health said in an emailed message the council had it right.

The message said as long as rooms had separate entrances to the street and people in different rooms didn't mingle, 10 people per room was fine.

Then, on Monday afternoon, Montreal's public health director, Dr. Mylène Drouin, sent another email to the council on to correct that information.

She says provincial officials have since clarified the rules. As it turns out, she says, only 10 people are allowed inside one address. 

Drouin says public health "sincerely apologizes for the back and forth over the last 48 hours."

Montreal's director of public health, Dr. Mylène Drouin, says only 10 people are allowed to gather at one address rather than 10 per room as previously believed. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

The weekend gatherings even caught the attention of provincial politicians, with both the opposition Liberal party and Parti Québécois condemning them.

In a statement to Radio-Canada, Public Security Minister Geneviève Guilbault called the gatherings "unacceptable" and said it's important for all Quebecers to keep following public health guidelines.

Hasidic Jewish council says rules keep changing

A spokesperson for the Hasidic Jewish council says people were simply trying to follow the rules as outlined by public health.

"It's irresponsible on the part of public health to change the rules every 24 hours, it doesn't make sense," Alain Picard said in an interview with La Presse canadienne.

"In 48 hours, we changed the rules three times. Anyone would lose track."

He said the community does want to follow public health restrictions.

Members of the Hasidic Jewish council said on Monday that many in their community thought they were following the rules by having separate entrances to separate rooms. (Sharon Yonan Renold/CBC)

The Hasidic Jewish council released a statement to that effect Saturday evening, saying it regretted that some members of the community failed to follow the restrictions, but pointing out there was also confusion regarding the rules.

Mayer Feig, a member of the council, said it wasn't clear if it was 10 people per room or building.

In one case, there were three separate entrances to three separate closed-off areas, the council said, allowing them to safely accommodate 10 people each.

On Monday, the council held a news conference where they showed the space in question. They believed it was set up in accordance to what they understood the rules to be after discussions with Montreal public health. 

With files from Radio-Canada, Steve Rukavina and La Presse canadienne

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