Quebec’s Council of Hasidic Jews takes government to court over limits on religious gatherings

Members of the community are left confused by constantly changing guidelines. Dan Spector/Global News

The Quebec Council of Hasidic Jews has filed legal action against the provincial government in connection with limits on religious gatherings amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Current public health guidelines in Quebec limit the number of worshippers allowed inside a building for a religious gathering to 10 people.

The Hasidic community is seeking to have the rules modified to allow for several gatherings of 10 people in the same building where closed-off rooms have distinct entrances to the outside.

Read more: Multiple changes to religious gathering directions create confusion for Outremont Hasidic community

In a news release, the council says taking legal action is a last recourse.

“After having exhausted all other means to get government authorities to make adjustments to allow members of our communities to be able to pray in a safe environment, communities are turning to the courts to ensure that their fundamental rights are respected,” said council member Max Lieberman.

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The move comes after Montreal police broke up three large gatherings at two different synagogues in Montreal’s Outremont borough last weekend.

A ban on religious gatherings implemented during the latest round of lockdowns had been lifted a few days earlier to allow for a maximum of 10 people.

Click to play video: 'Montreal police break up three large religious gatherings in Outremont in under 24 hours' Montreal police break up three large religious gatherings in Outremont in under 24 hours
Montreal police break up three large religious gatherings in Outremont in under 24 hours – Jan 23, 2021

Following the raids, the council says it received conflicting directives from public health officials.

In an email obtained by Global News, a Montreal public health director sent the community a note on Saturday evening clarifying the religious gathering guidelines. He wrote “a maximum of 10 people (is allowed) in a house of worship at any given time.”

Then, on Sunday, the same director sent another email, saying, ”in situations where there are multiple non-contiguous zones within one building, simultaneous gatherings of 10 people are allowed if they are held in zones with completely distinct entrances to the outside.”

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Finally on Monday, an email from public health director Dr. Mylene Drouin reversed the previous directives given.

Read more: Quebec religious groups have mixed reactions to latest gathering guidelines

She wrote, “the provincial government has informed us that the decree permitting gatherings of a maximum of 10 people in a house of worship DOES NOT allow for simultaneous gatherings at the same address.”

The council said it would not be commenting further, as the matter is before the courts.

— With files from Global News Olivia O’Malley and Alessia Simona Maratta

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