Montreal police had to intervene on three occasions at places of worship in Outremont on Saturday, breaking up gatherings exceeding the allowed 10-person limit.
In once instance, at least several dozen people had gathered inside.
In a statement posted to his Facebook on Saturday, Outremont borough mayor Philipe Tomlinson denounced the gatherings and urged people to respect the measures in effect.
“Concerning the events that took place last night at a synagogue in Outremont,” Tomlinson wrote, “I find it deplorable that almost a year into the pandemic, there are still small groups of people who don’t understand that going against the health measures can have a major impact.”
The police interventions come only days after Quebec’s health department adjusted the rules governing places of worship during the lockdown to allow up to 10 people to gather.
Police were first called to intervene at a place of worship on Durocher St., near Lajoie Ave., around 5 p.m. Friday.
As police arrived, many people emptied out of the building, hurrying to leave the scene.
“Unfortunately, a majority of these offenders decided to leave the premises by physically running into police officers,” police spokesperson Julien Lévesque said.
Four police officers were “assaulted” during the intervention, Lévesque said, but they were not injured.
Police drafted a general offence report and have submitted it to Quebec’s office of criminal prosecutions (DPCP) to determine whether statements of offence should be issued to those who had gathered.
Three people were later ticketed for being out past Quebec’s 8 p.m. curfew, Lévesque said.
It was reported people leaving the building shouted the word “Nazi” at police officers, something Tomlinson denounced Saturday as having “no place in our society.”
“We all understand that the work done by the SPVM is difficult in the current situation,” the borough mayor wrote. “It is their job to get people to respect the government guidelines, it is a question of public health.”
Alain Picard, a spokesperson for the Council of Hasidic Jews of Quebec, expressed remorse over the activities that occurred within the last 24 hours.
“While we don’t have all the details, we completely regret what happened,” Picard told the Montreal Gazette on Saturday night by telephone. “We have no words to say other than people have to obey the law. What happened (Friday) night was unacceptable.
“To call the police the way they were called … especially coming from Jewish people, is unacceptable. That’s clear.”
Picard added there has been confusion since the decree, calling for a maximum of 10 people being permitted into places of worship, was amended on Friday.
He said the Hasidic community believes, as long as each synagogue has a separate entrance, they should be permitted 10 people per room for prayer services. Picard admitted the community misunderstood the public-health decree.
But, he quickly added, limiting access to only 10 people per synagogue, and tightening the rules, forces Orthodox Jews to choose between what they consider their religious duty and the sanitary rules put in place by the provincial government.
Picard, who spoke to The Gazette from the intersection of St-Viateur and Hutchison, said there continued to be a noticeable police presence Saturday night. He estimated there were more than 20 police cars in the area of the synagogue.
“When Jewish people see that it puts oil on the fire,” Picard said. “The situation is still very tense at this moment.”
Picard quickly added he didn’t believe the Hasidic community was being segregated by the police.
Police were called to intervene in the borough two more times Saturday morning.
The force received a first call around 9:30 a.m. concerning a gathering at a place of worship on Hutchison St., near St-Viateur St.
Once there, police found “several dozen” people inside.
Police again drafted a general offence report. The people present were identified and the file is now in the DPCP’s hands, said police spokesperson Véronique Comtois.
One person was also arrested for obstructing police work.
Then, around 11:45 a.m., police were called to the same building where they had intervened Friday night.
Comtois said when police arrived, there was a large number of people gathered outside and inside. The people outside were asked to leave and did, she said.
“Inside the building, there was once again more than 10 people gathered, so there was another general offence report prepared,” Comtois said.