Police intervene after hundreds gather in Montreal suburb to celebrate Jewish holiday

Police and public health authorities broke up a gathering of hundreds of people in a synagogue Saturday night in Boisbriand, Que., and the event then spilled out into the surrounding streets, attracting roughly 1,000 people.

The incident led to more than a dozen tickets and one arrest. Police and public health authorities are investigating the event, and that could lead to further citations.

The inter-municipal police force of Thérese-de-Blainville issued a statement Tuesday saying officers intervened after seeing a large number of people in the synagogue — a violation of public health restrictions.

Boisbriand, an off-island suburb of Montreal, is in one of Quebec’s red zones. That means gatherings in places of worship are limited to 25 people.

A spokesperson for the inter-municipal force told Radio-Canada there were about 400 people in the synagogue when police officers contacted public health authorities.

Provincial police showed up to assist after public health ordered the gathering shut down. 

Police spoke with the presiding rabbi and the gathering moved outside, attracting hundreds of people from the surrounding neighbourhood. The crowd quickly grew to about 1,000.

Police issued 16 citations for public health violations. One person was arrested for assaulting a police officer and obstruction. That person was later released.

Police were on the scene until roughly 11 p.m., the spokesperson said. 

Health minister commends officers

During a news briefing on Tuesday, Health Minister Christian Dubé praised the officers who responded to the gathering, saying they did a “a very good job in displacing” the crowds.

He said he is thankful for the intervention.

“I don’t know how many infections we’ll get out of that, but I think that could have been a lot worse,” he said.

Quebec Public Health Minister Christian Dubé commended the officers who responded to the illegal gathering in Boisbriand Saturday. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

Alain Picard, a spokesperson for the Council of Hasidic Jews of Quebec, said the gathering was held to mark the end of the Jewish high holidays.

Picard described the assault on an officer as minor.

He said most of the people gathered were wearing masks, although he admits physical distancing rules were not always respected.

Julie Lemieux-Côté, a spokesperson for the public health authority in the Laurentians, said the agency condemns this sort of incident.

“It is the duty of the authorities to protect the collective interest and health,” she said. “And everybody is encouraged to help.”

Boisbriand neighbourhood quarantined in March

This is not the first time police and public health authorities have had to intervene in Boisbriand.

The entire Hasidic Jewish community of Tash, located in Boisbriand, was put under a 14-day quarantine following a spike in COVID-19 cases back in March.

Some members of the ultra-Orthodox community, which has about 4,000 residents, had travelled to the state of New York to celebrate Purim with other Hasidic communities when the state was dealing with its own surge of COVID-19 infections. 

More than a dozen travellers tested positive soon after their trip. Police, public health officials and Tash’s own security teams enforced the quarantine.

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