MONTREAL -- Montreal police have declared a state of emergency across the territory, effective as of midnight Sunday, in order to better respond to the spread of COVID-19 -- including breaking up gatherings of more than two people. 

The last time Montreal police declared a state of emergency was during the ice storm of 1998.

“Specialized teams have been reassigned to support the efforts of patrol officers who are ensuring that the public understands measures implemented to protect the population’s health,” Montreal police said in a statement.

Montrealers who gather risk being fined $1,000 for violating physical distancing rules meant to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

This comes after Quebec Premier François Legault announced an official ban on gatherings of two or more people as a way to limit person-to-person contact.

Now, police have been given the green light to break up groups and fine them, both for indoor and outdoor activities. 

"The way we will make the intervention is... we will ask people to get separated and respect the instructions given by the government,” explained Montreal police spokesperson Véronique Comtois. “If people are refusing to cooperate, they could receive a fine of $1,000 and in extreme cases, if people absolutely refuse to cooperate, they could be arrested.”

The province has also announced the mandatory closures of schools, bars, restaurants and malls

Sunday, Legault said police had been given the power to force individuals to stay home, but that he hoped it wouldn’t resort to drastic measures. 

Over the last week, he has repeatedly pleaded for people to stay home unless absolutely necessary, going so far as to ask Quebec celebrities and influencers to tell both young people and seniors to take the virus seriously. 

The Sûreté du Québec (SQ) says it has already intervened dozens of times throughout the province to enforce physical distancing rules.

Over the last few days, the force says neighbours have called to alert officers about large gatherings taking place in private homes.

“Officers have the power to close down parties if it’s a question of public health, but we are not there yet,” insisted SQ spokesperson Louis-Philippe Bibeau. 

So far, he says SQ officers have only resorted to giving “friendly advice.”

Some exceptions to the ban include: 

  • Meetings between employees needed in workplaces not affected by government closure mandates;
  • Travelling on public transit;
  • Gatherings between occupants of a private residence and a person offering them a service; and
  • Meetings that take place in a public space for a service (businesses, government services, etc.) not subject to closure mandates.