Hundreds of Montreal demonstrators receive stiff fines for not wearing masks

People participate in a demonstration in Montreal, Sunday, December 20, 2020, protesting measures implemented by the Quebec government to help stop the spread of COVID-19. The COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

A rally Sunday afternoon in downtown Montreal came at a hefty cost for hundreds of demonstrators protesting against recently announced holiday gathering restrictions.

Police handed out 269 fines of $1,546 each to those in the crowd not wearing masks, in violation of provincial guidelines to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

A spokesperson for the police department told Global News Monday that the number of tickets issued at the protest had climbed to 280, while six cases were being referred to the Crown for possible criminal prosecution.

The demonstration began just after noon Sunday outside the Montreal offices of François Legault at Sherbrooke Street West and McGill College Avenue and ended with a gathering at Parc Lafontaine.

Read more: Quebec to crack down on COVID-19 violations in bid to stop coronavirus surge

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Legault had announced before the protest that the grace period when police handed out warnings for safety violations was over, and that going forward, police would issue fines on the spot.

More than 1,000 people had indicated that they would attend the event, according to the Facebook page titled Mega Family Christmas Gathering.

For the week of Dec. 14 to Dec. 20, Montreal police say they fielded 530 calls in connection with the application of the province’s public health decree.

A total of 353 tickets or general offence reports were issued and inspections were carried out at two licensed establishments, 3,686 businesses and 107 other unspecified locations.

Read more: Coronavirus — Quebec orders 2-week shutdown of non-essential businesses starting Christmas Day

Sunday’s protest follows the Quebec government’s announcement of a two-week shutdown of non-essential businesses starting Christmas Day. A partial lockdown was already in place in a large swath of the province’s red zones, where restaurant dining rooms, gyms, cinemas and museums were ordered closed until at least Jan. 11.

The province’s yellow zones were bumped up to orange and orange zones were upgraded to red on Dec. 17 until Jan. 10, 2021, inclusively. Private gatherings are banned in red zones and are limited to six people in orange zones.

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While restrictions are being tightened across the province, Legault said some rules are being relaxed. People who are single or live alone are being allowed to join a family bubble, accompanied by their children, but must stick to the same bubble for the duration of the holiday season.

On Monday, Quebec reported 2,108 new cases of COVID-19, marking the third consecutive day the province has topped 2,000 daily cases.

The holiday shutdown aims to curb the increase in daily cases and hospitalizations to reduce mounting pressure on the health-care network.

—with files from The Canadian Press

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