COVID-19 Essential Services, Gathering Limits & Fines by Province



Governments around the world, including Canada’s, are urging citizens to stay home and stay away from each other – an approach known as “social distancing“. This is resulting in mass closures and cancellations, and Canadians from one corner of the country to the other are watching as the world quickly shuts down around us.

If you’re like the rest of the country and having trouble keeping track of what’s open, what’s closed, what services are still available, and where you’re still allowed to go, this article will tell you about the closures and cancellations across the country.

Essential services lists by province

As of April 13, 2020, the following provinces and territories have published lists of essential services that are allowed to keep their stores or offices open. Those not on the lists must close unless their employees can work from home or adapt to meet public health officials’ requirements, such as by switching to pickup or delivery.

Gathering limits & penalties by province

For most regions, the definition of gathering is: any event or assembling that brings people together in person, in a single room or single space, indoors or outdoors, at the same time. Gathering restrictions typically do not apply to any place of business still permitted to operate.

The following outlines the limit on the number of people, the potential penalties, the law that applies and how to report a violation for each province and territory:

ProvinceProhibitedPenaltyLawSubmit Complaint
AlbertaMore than 15, some exemptionsIndividual: $1,000, Businesses: $100,000 for a first offence and up to $500,000 for subsequent offencesPublic Health Amendment ActEnvironmental Public Health or call 1-833-415-9179
British ColumbiaMore than 50Up to $25,000 fine or 6 months imprisonmentPublic Health ActLocal non-emergency police line
ManitobaMore than 10Individuals: $486, Businesses: $2,542Section 67 of Public Health ActWinnipeg: call 311 email, or Twitter: @cityofwinnipeg, Elsewhere: Manitoba Government Inquiry inquiry line (toll-free) at 1-866-626-4862 or email
New BrunswickMore than 10Fines ranging from $292.50 to $10,200Emergency Measures ActCall 1-844-462-8387
Newfoundland and LabradorMore than 5Individual: fine or jail time, Corporation: $5,000 to $50,000Public Health Protection and Promotion ActPublic Report Form
Northwest TerritoriesAll indoor, more than 10 outdoorUp to $10,000 and 6 months in jailPublic Health ActContact Protect NWT – email or call 1-833- 378-8297.
Nova ScotiaMore than 5Individual: $1,000, Businesses: $7,500Health Protection ActLocal non-emergency police line
OntarioMore than 5, some exemptions$750 for failure to comply, $1,000 for obstructing any person in exercising a power. Failure to comply: up to 1 year imprisonment or a fine of up to $100,000 for an individual, $500,000 for a director of a corporation, $10,000,000 for a corporation itselfEmergency Management and Civil Protection Act (EMCPA)Local non-emergency police line
Prince Edward IslandMore than 5$1,000 for the first offence, $2,000 for the second offence and $10,000 for the third and subsequent offences1-800-958-6400 or local non-emergency police line
QuebecAll$1,000 to $6,000 finePublic Health ActLocal non-emergency police line
SaskatchewanMore than 10Public Health Order Non-Compliance Form
YukonMore than 10Up to $500, 6 months in prisonCivil Emergency Measures Health Protection OrderLocal non-emergency police line

Other cancellations and closures

Municipal and community service and facility cancellations and closures

Many municipalities across the country have reduced the number of services being offered, cut their hours of operation, or completely closed to the public. For example, your local library might still be open, but have reduced hours, have a limit on how many patrons can be in the library at once, or have other such restrictions in place. Here’s a list of the types of buildings and services that have been closed or cancelled because of COVID-19:

  • Recreational facilities  
  • Community centres
  • Public pools
  • Ice rinks
  • Animal shelters
  • Special events
  • City halls
  • City-run childcare and daycare facilities
  • Libraries
  • Zoos
  • Funerals and weddings
  • Council and committee meetings
  • Court services

Retail store and local business closures

No matter where you live, most grocery stores, pharmacies, and even farmers markets continue to operate normally. That being said, there are also many grocery stores that are adopting seniors-only shopping hours in the morning, so keep an eye out for that.

Aside from groceries and pharmacies, retail stores around the country are quickly closing their doors to fight the spread of COVID-19, especially the larger ones that can hold hundreds of customers at a time.

The list of store closures is growing every day, but what stores remain open will depend on your specific community. Here’s a list of some of the major companies that have closed their retail operations nation-wide:

  • IKEA
  • Purdy’s
  • Sephora
  • Nordstrom
  • Hudson’s Bay
  • H&M
  • Zara
  • Le Chateau
  • Gap
  • Old Navy
  • Banana Republic
  • Aldo
  • Matt & Nat
  • Canada Goose
  • Guess
  • Microsoft
  • Apple
  • Peloton 
  • Indigo
  • DavidsTea

Reduced hours at malls

While most of the malls in Canada are still open, many of them have adopted reduced shopping hours or limited operations. Cadillac Fairview, for instance, has 70 malls spread all over the country, and they’ve reduced their shopping hours to 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. or earlier. Ivanhoe Cambridge, another major mall owner in Canada, is keeping their locations open, but the company has suggested that tenants reduce their hours. Other mall owners are going even further, and reducing their hours of operation by up to 30%.

Bar, club, and restaurant closures or restrictions

Like some other categories on this list, bar and restaurant closures are province-to-province. Here’s what’s going on around the country.

Mandatory provincial closures

Ontario has shuttered all bars and restaurants, though establishments can still offer take-out or delivery options.

Alberta has shut down bars and clubs, but restaurants can operate at 50% capacity.

The Quebec government has asked restaurants to cut capacities in half.

BC has closed all bars and nightclubs, but restaurants and cafes can remain open as long as they limit their capacities, and they can still offer takeout and delivery.

Voluntary closures

In other provinces, there may not be mandatory closures, but lots of bars, restaurants, and clubs are restricting the number of patrons they’ll serve at a time, are staying open only for takeout service, or are limiting their hours of operation.

There are also some large restaurants and chains that have proactively closed or restricted all their locations nation-wide, and they include:

  • Keg Steakhouse and Bar
  • New York Fries (takeout, drive-through, and delivery may be available)
  • Swiss Chalet (takeout, drive-through, and delivery may be available)
  • Starbucks (takeout still available)
  • Tim Hortons (takeout, drive-through, and delivery still available)
  • Second Cup Coffee Co. (takeout, drive-through, and delivery still available)
  • Harvey’s (takeout, drive-through, and delivery may be available)
  • Pickle Barrel

Events, arts, and entertainment cancellations and closures

This category includes a number of spaces, places, and events that draw large crowds at a time, so it’ll probably come as no surprise to learn that there are lots of cancellations, closures, and postponements under this umbrella. Here are some examples of the events and spaces that have been closed, cancelled, or postponed:

  • Canada’s national museums are now all closed
  • Ontario has closed all major attractions and conference centres
  • Parks Canada has closed all their visitor centres
  • Alberta has shut down all public gathering spaces
  • Cineplex, Landmark Cinemas, and many smaller movie houses have closed
  • Many concerts have been cancelled or postponed
  • Most music and theatre festivals that were scheduled for spring and early summer have been cancelled or postponed
  • Casinos in BC, Alberta, and Ontario have been closed
  • Many art galleries have closed temporarily
  • Several award ceremonies have been cancelled
  • Ontario has closed provincial parks

Gym and fitness centre closures

Most public and private gyms and fitness centres around the country have closed their doors. This includes independent and locally owned locations, larger chains, and national franchises, including:

  • Goodlife Fitness
  • The Planet Fitness
  • Many YMCA locations
  • Fit4Less
  • LA Fitness
  • Orangetheory Fitness

Medical service restrictions

There are plenty of medical services that are still available, but we’re being asked to call before we head to the doctor’s office, ER, or urgent care centre.

For example, if you’re feeling sick and would normally just go to the walk-in clinic or your doctor’s office, now you’re being asked to call the clinic or your local public health authority first. If you’re experiencing symptoms related to COVID 19, make sure you mention that on the phone. Here are the numbers for the provincial health information hotlines in each province and territory:

  • Alberta, BC, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, PEI, Saskatchewan, and Yukon: call 8-1-1
  • Manitoba: call Health Links-Info Santé at 1-888-315-9257
  • Northwest Territories: call your local public health clinic
  • Nunavut: call your healthcare provider
  • Ontario: call Telehealth Ontario at 1-866-797-0000
  • Quebec: call Santé Québec at 1-877-644-4545

Many hospitals have cancelled elective surgeries to make sure there’s space, equipment, and resources available for COVID 19 patients. Similarly, many dentists have cancelled services, except emergency surgeries, to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Further, most hospitals have restricted visitor access, and long-term care facilities are now closed to non-essential visitors.

Finally, many pharmacies have given customers authorization to refill or renew prescriptions without a doctor. Just make sure you call before you head over.

School closures

Three-week closures

Before March break, several provinces and territories announced that schools would remain closed for an additional two weeks after the break, and that includes:

  • Manitoba
  • Quebec
  • Ontario
  • New Brunswick
  • Nova Scotia
  • PEI
  • Yukon
  • Newfoundland and Labrador
  • Northwest Territories

Indefinite closures

Since then, a few have gone a couple steps further and suspended classes indefinitely for kindergarten through grade 12, including:

  • Saskatchewan
  • Alberta
  • British Columbia
  • Newfoundland and Labrador

Post-secondary institutions

Most colleges and universities have suspended on-campus classes and moved courses to an online format. Others have suspended on-campus and online courses for 2 to 3 weeks.

Bank branches: closures and reduced hours

Like the malls, many of the country’s banks are staying open, but with reduced access and hours. For instance, CIBC, TD Canada Trust, Scotiabank, RBC, BMO, and other financial institutions have closed certain branches and reduced the hours of operation at their remaining locations.

Religious service suspensions

Many churches, mosques, synagogues, and other places of worship have temporarily suspended public services. Many are still open for private prayer and worship, but have stopped other services to prevent large gatherings of people.

International-travel restrictions and border closures

Most of the COVID-19 cases in Canada are travel-related, so the government has asked Canadians to avoid all non-essential travel outside the country. Moreover, the government has shut the borders to most international travellers. Although the U.S. wasn’t originally included in this, the government has since said that non-essential travel to and from the U.S. will be stopped, likely as of Friday, March 20, 2020.

Because of the border restrictions and travel advisories, the major airlines are suspending most international flights, including those bound for the U.S. Canadian citizens and permanent residents who are currently abroad are being asked to make their way home as soon as possible. 

For Canadian citizens and permanent residents who are currently abroad, flights back to Canada will only be allowed to land in one of 4 airports, which are:

  • Calgary International Airport
  • Montréal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport
  • Vancouver International Airport
  • Toronto Pearson International Airport

Domestic travel reductions

For the time being, the government hasn’t mandated any travel restrictions within Canada, and airports are still open to domestic flights. VIA Rail, however, is scaling back some services so it can increase space between passengers.  


There’s a lot going on in the world and within Canada right now, and the landscape is changing daily in terms of what’s open, what services are available, and where we’re allowed to go. Every day, more and more services are being reduced, stores closed, and access restricted.

Many stores, restaurants, bars, cultural hotspots, attractions, and other spaces have been closed, while municipal and private services have been cancelled, and plenty of events and festivities have been cancelled or postponed. 

However, it’s important to remember that the reason we’re doing this is to keep each other safe and healthy, to prevent the spread of a new disease, and to keep our hospitals and medical centres free and available for those who really need them.

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Over to you

Know of any additional store closures or service cancellations that aren’t mentioned in the article? Please let us know in the comments below.

About the author

Ashley Tonkens
Hi! I'm Ashley, and I'm a freelance writer living in Nelson, BC. When I'm not at my computer, I love to get out hiking, biking, swimming, and camping. My dog, Harriet, comes just about everywhere with me. Except swimming—she absolutely hates the water. I grew up in Ontario, but now live in an incredible small town in B.C. that’s rich with culture, full of cool people, and surrounded by trees, mountains, lakes, hot springs, glaciers, and adventures of all kinds. Ashley has a Master's Degree in Journalism and a Bachelor's Degree in English Language and Literature from Western University. LinkedIn Read more

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