Hasidic community wins court challenge of public health restrictions on places of worship

·2 min read

A judge has ruled in favour of a challenge to public health regulations by Montreal's Hasidic Jewish community, but has left the door open for the government to adjust the rules in the future

In the conclusion to a 53-page decision, Quebec Superior Court Justice Chantal Masse agreed with the applicants, who represent three Hasidic congregations, that the maximum 10 people allowed in a place of worship applies to each room within a building that has its own access to the street — not just to the building in its entirety.

However, the judge decided not to weigh in on a big-picture question the Hasidic community doubtless views as more pivotal: the constitutionality of the regulations themselves.

And earlier in the judgment, Masse writes that should the government decide to modify its rules or redefine a "place of worship" in order to protect public health rules, it is well within its legal purview to do so.

"This is a question of expediency that it is up to the government to assess," Masse writes.

In a news release, the Quebec Council of Hasidic Jews said it is "very, very relieved" by the decision.

"Our belief in God has implications for our civilian life," the statement says. "The authorities therefore have an obligation to take this into account when they put in place measures so restrictive that they practically prevent us from practising our religion."

The statement affirms the community "will continue to respect all public health measures ordered by the authorities."

Health Minister Christian Dubé was asked for his reaction to the judgment at a news conference on Friday, he said he hasn't yet read it and the government will take the time to analyze the ruling before deciding on its next move.

The judgment dodges the Hasidic community's request to suspend the restrictions on places of worship on constitutional grounds, saying the court's ruling on the contested measures rendered a judgment on the constitutional part of the argument unnecessary.

The court challenge came after Montreal police broke up a number of gatherings in synagogues in the Outremont borough on Jan. 22 and 23.

Community members complained they had tried to follow public health guidelines and that the rules defining a place of worship were not clear.

Subsequent efforts by Montreal public health officials to provide guidance caused further confusion and led to Montreal's public health director, Dr. Mylène Drouin, apologizing to the community for "the back and forth."