Quebec's new mask rule met with co-operation, and a few noisy protests

Quebec's new mandatory mask rule went into effect over the weekend with widespread support from customers and merchants, though it was also met with small but vocal resistance.

Premier says 'vast majority' of the province is adhering to the face-covering requirements

On Saturday, wearing masks became mandatory in indoor public spaces in Quebec. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

Quebec's new mandatory mask rule went into effect over the weekend with widespread support from customers and merchants, as well as some small but vocal resistance.

Premier François Legault announced the provincewide rule last week. It requires face coverings in indoor public spaces, such as stores, restaurants and office buildings.

Though several cities in Canada (including Montreal) have adopted similar measures, Legault's is the first provincial government to do so. 

Across the province, store owners reported the first two days of the new rule went relatively smoothly. Many handed out disposable masks to clients who either forgot theirs or were unaware of the rule. 

"For the first week, we'll have an adaptation zone, where we'll give them a disposable mask. The clients are really okay with it," said Mathieu Viens, who owns a grocery store in Carleton-sur-Mer on Quebec's Gaspé Peninsula.

One small town in the Eastern Townships hired a security guard for the local corner store, where he made sure people were wearing a mask before heading inside. 

"The rule is really being widely respected," the security guard, Jean Galipeau, told a Radio-Canada reporter in Saint-Camille, Que.

Enforcement falls to business owners

The task of enforcing the mandatory mask rule was given to merchants. They are liable to be fined between $400 and $6,000 if someone is caught in their store without a mask. 

In the Saguenay region, 230 kilometres north of Quebec City, merchants said most customers were co-operating. "For the moment, we haven't had to play police," said Roch Delisle, who owns a clothing store called Laflamme.

The new mask requirements are being applied as Quebec is witnessing a modest but steady rise in the number of cases of COVID-19. The province reported 166 new cases on Sunday, the highest daily total in a month.

The new mask requirements are being applied as Quebec is witnessing a modest but steady rise in the number of cases. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

"The vast majority of Quebecers are respecting the rule. I'm so proud of the solidarity of Quebecers," Legault said in a tweet on Sunday. 

Business lobby groups, though, have expressed concerns that store owners aren't equipped to be enforcing the law and worry it could expose them to confrontations with clients.

On Saturday, police in Montreal pepper sprayed and arrested a man who they said wasn't wearing a mask and who refused to leave a Tim Hortons. The incident was captured on video and quickly made the rounds on social media. 

André Durocher, a spokesperson for the SPVM, said that was the only mask-related incident this weekend where Montreal officers were called to intervene.

"We're not asking merchants to start to get physically involved with people. They can call the police and a police officer will respond," Durocher said.

Jean Galipeau was hired by the town of Saint-Camille, Que., to enforce the mask rule at the local convenience store. (Radio-Canada)

He said officers will inform clients about the mask rule, and invite them to leave the store if they remain unwilling to put one on. 

"If they refuse to comply, well, there comes a point where [the officers] have to apply the law," Durocher said. "The merchant doesn't want to be fined. They're asking for police assistance."

Small anti-mask protests around the province

A more organized form of anti-mask sentiment has expressed itself at several protests in recent days. 

An anti-mask demonstration was attended by around 80 people in Alma, a city of around 30,000 residents in the Saguenay, on Friday.

Demonstrators held signs saying "I have the right to choose" and gave each other hugs at the end of the protest. 

An estimated 100 people took part in a similar protest Saturday in Sherbrooke, Que., and several hundred more were at an anti-mask demonstration the same day in the Beauce, south of Quebec City.

Tim Poulin Paquet, left, and Mathieu Lacroix helped organize the anti-mask demonstration in the Beauce. (Radio-Canada)

The organizers of the Beauce protest said they didn't object to masks per se, only the fact they are now mandatory, which they fear will hurt businesses in the area.

"This is a place with a lot of [small businesses]. We want them to survive. We want the freedom of choice, and for everyone to respect each other," said Mathieu Lacroix, who owns a manufacturing company and a gym.

Some of Quebec's far-right groups have also joined the anti-mask cause. La Meute, known for its Islamophobic and anti-immigrant positions, helped promote the rally in the Beauce.

Several other figures within the radical nationalist blogosphere released a video saying they would organize further anti-mask demonstrations in order to defend their "rights and freedoms."

They released the video, they said, after attending a rally in support of health-care workers in Repentigny, Que.

With files from Alexandre Courtemanche, Thomas Laberge, Jean Arel, Valeria Cori-Manocchio

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