At least 15 people who attended a house party aimed at flouting COVID-19 restrictions in a community in western Quebec last weekend will receive $1,000 fines, Quebec provincial police say.
Officers arrived at the party in Grenville-sur-la-Rouge — a municipality between Montreal and Ottawa — around 10 p.m. Saturday after receiving complaints.
Party host Steeve Charland told Radio-Canada in French that four officers took down his identification and licence plate numbers from cars parked outside. He described the police visit as a “courtesy call” and said officers didn’t try to break up the party.
But police say it was no courtesy call.
At least 15 people will be fined $1,000 each, said Sgt. Marc Tessier, a spokesperson with the Sûreté du Québec. With the addition of fees tacked on to cover costs of handling each ticket in Quebec, the true cost per person could be closer to $1,500.
Tessier said an investigation could yield more fines — all related to breaking Quebec’s six-person limit on gatherings inside a private home under the province’s rules for orange zones.
Charland would not give an exact number of guests but said there were more than 30. As of Monday, he said no one had yet been fined.
Provoking a police response
The gathering was a chance for the partygoers to thumb their noses at authorities, said Charland. It was prompted by Premier François Legault’s decision last week to cancel plans to allow some Christmas gatherings in order to stem a surge in COVID-19 cases, he said.
Charland posted a video from the party on social media, showing revellers without masks and celebrating the event as a deliberate decision to break the province’s rules.
“We wanted to provoke a response,” said Charland in French. “We wanted to denounce these excessive [COVID-19] measures.”
A video taken at the party shows a large group counting down from three to say “F-U Legault” in unison while gesturing with their middle fingers.
Charland has been an outspoken critic of COVID-19 restrictions and said he’s had previous parties — some of them visited by police. No fines were issued for his previous parties, he said.
If he receives a fine now, Charland said he is prepared to fight the penalty, which he calls a violation of his charter rights.
Mayor not impressed
Grenville-sur-la-Rouge Mayor Tom Arnold said he wasn’t happy to see police resources spent on Charland’s party.
“I was definitely not impressed,” said Arnold, who wants the province to improve communications for people who continue to question the importance of adhering to restrictions.
The community has had few cases and Arnold hopes the house party does not lead to more.
“They have to understand the pandemic we’re living with,” said Arnold.
He said he wants people to consider the measures as a necessary sacrifice to protect seniors and the community’s most vulnerable citizens.