MONTREAL — Eleven Ontario students may have thought that by gathering far away from home, in a remote, rented cottage in Quebec, their breaking of COVID-19 rules would go unnoticed.
But now the group is facing fines totalling at least $17,000 — plus leaving whoever rented them the cottage with the possibility of a multi-thousand-dollar fine that may be bigger than the amount any of the renters will face individually.
“The Crown has to determine if the amount is higher because [that person] is the owner — it depends,” explained Sgt. Marc Tessier of Quebec provincial police, which responded to the party.
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The tip-off to the weekend party came first to Mont-Tremblant police, who don’t cover Labelle, a small, rural town about a half-hour drive north of Tremblant in the Laurentians region.
On Sunday night, they passed along the information to the Surete du Quebec, which sent officers to check. The SQ didn’t know whether the original tip came from a neighbour or some other source.
“We received information about a possible gathering in a cottage in Labelle,” said Tessier. Once arrived, the officers “noticed five cars in the driveway… they found 11 people in the cottage, all residents of Ontario.”
Tessier said he didn’t know where exactly in Ontario the people were from, but he said they were students.
The people’s names and addresses were taken down for their infraction reports. In Quebec, police often send the statements of offence for COVID-19 offences to the office of Crown prosecutors, who then set the amounts of the fines and mail the tickets to the offenders.
In this case, the students were written up for breaking rules against gathering. The Laurentians region is considered a “red zone” in Quebec, meaning the maximum COVID alert level.
Under red-zone rules, people may not gather with anyone outside their own household, except for some exceptions for workers who must visit homes, and for single people, who may visit a single other household.
The minimum fine for breaking that rule is $1,000 per person, plus fees that bring the total to around $1,500. The maximum is $6,000 per person, plus fees.
The cottage was a “rental cottage,” said Tessier, and police are looking into how much the renter knew about the party plan.
“Who the owner [is], and if and what [information] that person received — it depends,” he said.
“If they rented it for just one person, but  arrived,” he said, it would likely be treated differently than someone who knowingly rented the property to a big group of students.
In general, he said, the owner of the property can be held accountable for breaking the same rule against gatherings as the people who actually gathered, and faces the same ticket range of $1,000 to $6,000.
Mayors of small towns in the Laurentians, a very popular area for weekend trips, have also been pleading with Quebec authorities to bring back road checkpoints and make it harder for people from major cities to visit and potentially bring the virus with them.
There have been a few similar instances in the area, but it’s “not something that’s common” for such big groups to be found, said Tessier.
“From what I understand, it’s a holiday today in Ontario, so maybe that’s why they were still there on Sunday” so late at night, he said Monday.