Police called to another Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu bingo event of more than 150 people

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After a first warning, a bingo hall south of Montreal that hosted 250 people Friday, against public health guidelines, held another event Wednesday evening with up to 170 attendees.

Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu police were called and organizers sent participants home.

The city in the Montérégie region is in an orange zone, the second-highest alert level for COVID-19 restrictions, until tomorrow when it becomes a red zone.

Quebec's Health Ministry had clarified this week that in orange zones, the maximum number of people allowed inside a bingo hall is 25.

Public health officials in the Montérégie say there has been one positive case of COVID-19 linked to a bingo event on Oct. 4 at the same location and they're encouraging everyone who was present that day to go and get tested at a mobile testing clinic being set up for Friday.

The people who attended Friday night's event were trying to win a $100,000 prize.

But the hall still went ahead with another event Wednesday, which was interrupted by police.

The organization behind the events, HR Community Bingo, said on its Facebook page that it followed public health guidelines and is now closing down as the region becomes a red zone.

Province's orange zone rules are ambiguous, says bingo group

The association that represents bingo halls across Quebec says there was reason to believe these recent crowded events were allowed.

Eric Castonguay, the executive director of Le Secrétariat du Bingo, says Wednesday night's gathering was not your typical bingo get-together. He says it was a commercial event that is regulated by Quebec's liquor and gaming board, putting it on par with casinos.

Castonguay pointed out that the province's public health guidelines for restaurants, bars and casinos in orange zones call for a maximum of six people to be seated at the same table, without specifying a limit for the number of people on the premises.

According to him, another one of the province's orange zone rules seems to greenlight events like the one on Wednesday night.

"There's even a definition," Castonguay said, in reference to the rule. "It says 'seated person', 'relatively immobile', 'speaking very little or at all' — that's funny, that sounds like a bingo hall to me."

He says his group represents 25 commercial bingo halls around Quebec, grossing more than $25 million for non-profit organizations.

He says, over the last few months, both the Health Ministry and the workplace health and safety board (CNESST) have visited their installations and that no violations were reported.

The Canadian Press/Marco Campanozzi
The Canadian Press/Marco Campanozzi

'I'm sorry, but that's a lack of judgment'

On Thursday, Health Minister Christian Dubé said regardless of what it states in the province's public health guidelines, organizing a large bingo event is ill-advised.

"I'm sorry, but that's a lack of judgment," Dubé said. "Please use your judgment and make sure that we protect our people — especially those that would be more affected."

He added that he wouldn't want "bingo to become the karaoke from a few weeks ago", in reference to dozens of COVID-19 cases that were linked to karaoke event in Quebec City.

The health minister said the province had already made it clear that it wanted to all limit gatherings in an effort to reduce the number of daily infections.