TORONTO - At least 10 Sears Canada stores in Ontario opened their doors to the public on Monday, even though the provincial government warned the company that it would be against the law to do so on Victoria Day.

Canada's second-largest department store chain had said it planned to hold special "private by-invitation-only'' charity events, which it believed would be legal as an exemption under the province's Retail Business Holidays Act.

But the provincial government said that wasn't a valid exemption and the only stores that could open legally were those in designated tourist areas.

"It's clear and we told Sears,'' Greg Dennis, a spokesman for the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services, said Monday.

"They asked us and we told them there is no legally authority to grant an exemption in this case, so they were told quite clearly that they don't have a legal authority to do this.''

Still, stores in Belleville, Brockville, Cobourg, Cornwall, Sarnia, St. Catharines, Windsor and some in the Toronto-area were open for business. Some stores turned away customers that didn't have special invitations -- which had been handed out during the week -- but employees at other stores said they were open to anyone and everyone.

Fines for violating the retail act could range between $500 up to $50,000 but Dennis said it was completely up to the police to act on complaints from the public and then act accordingly.

He said the government would not get involved in enforcing the legislation.

"We don't tell police what to do,'' he said. "Enforcement is a police issue, we don't enforce the law we make up the law.''

It was unclear how many stores Sears had planned to open on Monday but it appeared that some changed their plans.

Police in Hamilton and Sault. Ste. Marie said they checked into whether their local stores were open but found no one inside. Local media outlets had reported they planned to open.

Sears Canada spokesman Vincent Power said he wasn't aware of any stores that were fined by police or any complaints being filed.

He wouldn't comment on the company's talks with the government before deciding to open the stores.