Ontario Premier Doug Ford at a recent press conference (YouTube)
Under emergency regulations issued to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, Ontario had banned religious gatherings of more than five people since the end of March. Full Jewish prayer services require the presence of at least ten people — and traditional Jews cannot use drive-ins, Zoom or other electronic platforms to facilitate services on the Sabbath or holidays.
The five-person limit did not apply to grocery stores, liquor stores or other commercial enterprises. Other provinces, such as British Columbia and Alberta, have allowed religious gatherings of up to 50 people so long as physical distancing could be maintained.
In late May, the Justice Centre of Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF) announced that it would launch a legal action to challenge the Ontario prayer restrictions. B'nai Brith joined representatives of various religious communities in a meeting with Ontario government officials last Friday, led by JCCF counsel Lisa Bildy, to communicate the need to accommodate religious freedom in Ontario while complying with all public health protocols.
“We are pleased and relieved that Ontario's leaders have listened to the reasonable concerns of their constituents, including the requests of the province’s grassroots Jewish community,” said Michael Mostyn, Chief Executive Officer of B’nai Brith Canada.
“While caution is still warranted given the current health threats, there is no reason to prevent small, carefully organized prayer services from taking place — especially when much larger gatherings were already permitted for non-religious purposes.”
Beginning Friday, June 12, gatherings of up to 10 people will be permitted. Moreover, places of worship can re-open at 30% of capacity, so long as physical distancing measures are maintained.
B'nai Brith has long intervened on behalf of the Jewish community on issues of religious rights. In July 2019, B’nai Brith successfully intervened in a lawsuit challenging the Chief Electoral Officer’s refusal to move the federal election date away from a Jewish holiday, as had been done in Ontario in the past.