COVID-19 – Minimization of non-priority services and activities for Quebec businesses


On March 24, 2020, the Government of Quebec adopted Decree 223-2020, thereby making official the order to suspend non-priority services and activities announced on March 23.  Under s. 123(2) of the Public Health Act (hereinafter the “Act”), the government may, when a state of health emergency has been declared, implement such a measure without delay or other formalities.

With this decree, the Government of Quebec initially ordered to reduce to a minimum, as of Wednesday, March 25th at 00:01 a.m. and until April 13th, 2020, all non-priority services and activities. However, on April 5, the government announced that this containment period would be extended until May 4th, 2020. During this period, the minimum operations required to ensure the eventual resumption of activities of businesses operating in the non-priority sectors may continue, except for businesses that remain covered by the decree.

In addition, businesses where priority services are offered will be authorized to continue their activities. The mandatory continuation of activities also applies to all businesses producing inputs or raw materials needed for priority services and activities. Thus, subcontractors or co-contractors providing products necessary for the priority services and activities will be able to qualify as “priority services and activities” within the meaning of the decree. The government has published, in annex to Decree 223-2020, a list of the priority services and activities covered by this exception:

Priority health services and social services

Priority health services and social services, including:

  • Institutions in the health and social services network, including 811 call centres
  • Pre-hospital emergency services, including the Corporation d’Urgences santé, first responders, ambulance service operators and healthcare communication centres
  • Private health consulting room of office, including dentists and optometrists (for emergency services only)
  • Pharmacies
  • Intermediate resources and family-type resources
  • Private seniors’ residences
  • Individuals, enterprises and organizations providing services to the elderly, to the disabled and to the vulnerable, in particular as part of the direct allocation—service employment paycheque measure
  • Specialized resources offering accommodation for vulnerable groups and their relatives (domestic violence, vagrancy, cancer, addicts housed in community or private resources, palliative and end-of-life care, the underprivileged, immigrants, the elderly, the mentally ill, mother and child, prenatal and postnatal groups, young people in difficulty and their families, people with an intellectual or physical deficiency or an autism spectrum disorder, victims of crime)
  • Héma-Québec
  • Transplant-Québec
  • Canadian Red Cross
  • Institut national de santé publique du Québec
  • Régie de l’assurance maladie du Québec
  • Commission des normes, de l’équité, de santé et de la sécurité du travail
  • Wholesalers and manufacturers of medication accredited by the Minister of Health and Social Services
  • Medical and pharmaceutical laboratories and research centres
  • Enterprises manufacturing vaccines or by-products to produce vaccines
  • Suppliers, distributors and co-contractors in the health and social services network
  • Independent placement agencies in the field of health services and social services
  • Private IV clinics
  • Joint procurement groups

Public security services

Public security services, including:

  • Police departments and police forces, including emergency call dispatch centres (operated by a municipality or the Sûreté du Québec)
  • Fire services
  • Correctional services
  • Special constables
  • Highway controllers
  • Wildlife protection officers
  • Security agencies
  • Ministère de la Sécurité publique (civil security and coroners)
  • Forest firefighters and all types of professionals providing support for civil security operations
  • Communication services
  • Enterprises involved in environmental emergencies

Government services and other priority activities

Government services and other priority activities, including:

  • Québec government departments and bodies
  • Childcare workers and support staff for emergency childcare services
  • Online higher education
  • Suppliers of goods and services for underprivileged citizens
  • Food inspection and food quality
  • Waste collection and residual materials management
  • Government air services
  • Suicide prevention centres
  • Assistance services for victims of domestic violence
  • Services deemed essential by municipal organizations (administration, public works, etc.)
  • Food banks
  • Veterinarian clinics and agronomists
  • Production and distribution of medications, vaccines and medical equipment for veterinary medecine
  • Laboratories and animal health research centres
  • Care for live animals kept in captivity
  • Inspection, monitoring and improvements relating to the conservation and health of animals and crops
  • Courts of justice and administrative tribunals, for matters they deem urgent
  • Legal services (lawyers, notaries, bailiffs, translators and other workers)
  • Professional orders – public protection component
  • Priority union activities

Maintenance and operation of strategic infrastructure

Maintenance and operation of strategic infrastructures, including:

  • Energy production, supply, transmission, transportation and distribution (hydroelectricity, fossil fuels, wind energy, biomass energy)
  • Maintenance of essential public infrastructures in proper working order (bridges, municipal buildings, etc.)
  • Construction, maintenance and upkeep of essential activities in connection, in particular, with public and private infrastructures that may create a risk for public health and safety (private dams, management of hazardous and radioactive waste, etc.)
  • Sanitary services and supply chains (for example water treatment plants)
  • Computer resources (security, maintenance, urgent needs in the current situation)
  • Data centres

Priority manufacturing activities

Priority manufacturing activities, including:

  • Food production (agricultural enterprises, including the construction and renovation of agricultural buildings, food processing, drink production, slaughterhouses, market-garden vegetable and horticultural production, fisheries and commercial aquaculture)
  • Production of inputs necessary for priority sectors
  • Wood products industry and silvicultural operations
  • Manufacture of medical instruments
  • Manufacture of chemicals
  • Manufacture of sanitary products
  • Manufacture of micro-electronic components
  • Industrial facilities (in particular in the aluminum sector), which must reduce their activities to a minimum
  • Manufacturing and maintenance in the defence sector
  • Mining operations

Priority commercial enterprises

Priority commercial enterprises, including:

  • Grocery stores and other food retailers
  • Pharmacies
  • Convenience stores
  • Stores not in a mall (offering grocery, pharmacy or hardware products)
  • Businesses supplying agricultural operations (machinery, fertilizer, etc.)
  • Société des alcools du Québec and Société québécoise du cannabis
  • Furniture and household appliances (online or telephone sales only)
  • Funeral services business and cemetery
  • Restaurants (drive-through, take-out and delivery only)
  • Hotels and, to accommodate persons returning to Québec and not having a fixed residence, camping grounds (only recreational camping vehicles, motorized or not)
  • Cleaners, laundries and laundromats
  • Medical and orthopaedic supply firms
  • Suppliers of pet food and supplies
  • Moving firms  and domestic storage
  • Work equipment (safety and protection)
  • Products, parts and other equipment necessary for transportation and logistics services

Media and telecommunications services

Media and telecommunications services, including:

  • Telecommunications (network and equipment)
  • Cable services
  • Printing
  • National media
  • Local media
  • Communications agencies (advertising, production, feedback)

Banking, financial and other services

Banking, financial and other services, including:

  • Financial services (financial institutions, automatic teller machines and other payment methods)
  • Insurance (telephone services)
  • Payroll services
  • Accounting services
  • Financial market and stock exchange services
  • Placement agencies

Construction sector services

Construction sector services, including:

  • Construction firms, for emergency repairs or to ensure safety
  • Electricians, plumbers and other trades (emergency services only)
  • Equipment rental firms
  • Lanscaping and landscape maintenance (including nurseries, garden centres and businesses selling swimming pools)
  • Construction and renovation of residential dwellings, for any immovable where the taking of possession of a residential unit must take place on or before 31 July 2020, including the supply of goods and services that may be required for the work, including the services of real estate agents, land surveyors, building inspectors and assessors, and chartered appraisers

Building maintenance and upkeep services

Building maintenance and upkeep services, including:

  • Cleaning, upkeep and pest management
  • Building maintenance (elevators, ventilation, alarm systems, etc.)
  • Household appliance maintenance and repair

Priority services in the field of transportation and logistics

Priority services in the field of transportation and logistics, including:

  • Public transit services and passenger services
  • Ports and airports
  • Maintenance of locomotives, aircraft and boats and essential air operations (air transportation)
  • Supply and distribution of foodstuffs, grocery stores and convenience stores
  • Transportation, storage and distribution of goods
  • Snow removal and road maintenance
  • Service stations, vehicle maintenance and repair, tow truck firms, trucks and specialized equipment, and roadside assistance
  • Remunerated passenger transportation, paratransit services and rental car firms
  • Postal, courier and parcel delivery services
  • Bicycle repair shops, includind, sales1

It is important to note that this list has already been amended and may be amended again. In fact, the Minister of Health and Social Services may, at any time, “amend the Schedule to add or delete priority services or to make clarifications”.

Moreover, it is possible for a company whose services are not on the above-mentioned list to apply to the government for designation as a priority company. To do so, companies must submit their application using the online form available here. Plus, the Quebec government has set up a telephone information line on the designation of a priority company, which is accessible by telephone at 1 855 477-0777.

In addition, on March 30th, 2020, the Quebec government decreed the closure, for all Sundays in April, of businesses that provide services deemed essential, excluding, however, gas stations, convenience stores, pharmacies and take-out orders in restaurants from the application of this measure.

The decree makes it an offence to obstruct or hinder the Minister of Health and Social Services or a Director of Public Health or to refuse to obey an order of either of them. A company that does not comply with government instructions is liable to a fine ranging from $1,000 to $6,000, which is doubled for repeat offences. The same penalty applies to anyone who makes a false statement or provides false information to the Minister or a National Director of Public Safety.

Finally, all businesses authorized to carry on their activities will have to ensure that persons present in their establishments respect, as much as possible, the health measures recommended by Public Health, including the principles of social distancing.

If you have any questions as to whether the services or activities of your business fall under one of these categories, we invite you to contact a lawyer from the Bernier Fournier team.