Quebec Superior Court sides with Hasidic Jewish community 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 won its legal battle against the provincial government in connection with the restrictions in place on religious gatherings during the COVID-19 crisis.

In her ruling, Quebec Superior Court Justice Chantal Masse found that the province’s measure to allow a maximum of 10 people per indoor religious gathering applies to each room inside a synagogue so long as it has its own entrance or access to the street.

On Friday, Abraham Ekstein, a spokesperson for the Quebec Council of Hasidic Jews expressed satisfaction with the decision.

“We are very, very relieved by the judgment,” he said, adding it “confirms that our interpretation of the government decree was right and we have always acted in good faith.”

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

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Masse also acknowledged, however, that managing the health crisis in Quebec has been “extremely difficult and complex.” Masse said that knowing when there should be flexibility and knowing when to be firm with measures isn’t easy.

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The province’s most recent public health guidelines — which aim to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus — states a maximum of 10 worshippers are permitted for events.

The Hasidic community sought to have the measures changed to allow for several gatherings of 10 people in the same building where closed-off rooms have distinct entrances to the outside.

Before the court, lawyers representing the council argued the size of some synagogues can safely accommodate more than 10 worshippers and others have more than one room for prayers or religious ceremonies.

They also argued the 10-person limit per synagogue was unacceptable and violated freedom of religion.

The group said prayer was at the core of its members’ lives and of the Jewish Hassidic community.

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

Evidence presented before Masse demonstrated that some important prayers and ceremonies, such as circumcisions, require a quorum of 10 adult men.

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The council opted for legal action after Montreal police broke up three gatherings at two different synagogues in the city’s Outremont borough in January.

Following the raids, however, the council says it received conflicting directives from public health officials on the limits for religious gatherings.

While the judge did not rule on the unconstitutionality of the 10-person limit, Ekstein said it was too soon to say what the next steps would be.

“We just received the judgment just a few hours ago…from what we understand, the judge said it would be premature to do it at this stage,” he said.

For now, the focus is on the future.

“We are all happy to put this story behind us,” Ekstein said.

“Now is the time to reconstruct the bridges. We are now working for the future to ensure that this is something that everyone can respect and can adhere to and everyone’s health is protected.”

When asked about the ruling, Health Minister Christian Dubé said Friday he had just learned about the decision and could not comment on it yet.

— With files from Global News’ Gloria Henriquez and The Canadian Press


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