Around a dozen activists mounted a protest Sunday morning in front of the Montreal office of Quebec Premier François Legault against the province’s nightly curfew, put in place earlier in January to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
Claiming the fines of up to $6,000 only punish poor people who cannot afford to pay such fines, demonstrator Tristan Moreau called the measure “useless,” and asked, “how does it actually help stop the spread of Covid, when we’re keeping schools open?”
Quebec’s daily COVID-19 case numbers have dipped in the two weeks since the curfew went into effect. The Legault government says the improving numbers are a sign the curfew is working, a claim disputed by some health experts who say it’s still too early to know.
Some told Global News they were inspired to join the demonstration, despite the frigid cold, after Legault’s controversial remarks in rejecting growing calls to exempt the homeless from curfew tickets.
“If we change the rules and say you cannot give a ticket to somebody who’s saying that he’s homeless, you may have some people who pretend to be homeless,” the premier said on Tuesday.
Those words disappointed federal and municipal politicians and enraged many who showed up to the protest.
“It makes me feel ashamed, and I think he should feel ashamed, but obviously, he doesn’t,” Robbie Mahood, another demonstrator, said.
The battle over homeless people’s rights during the curfew has taken on urgency after the death a week ago of Raphael Napa André. The 51-year-old Innu man was found dead inside a portable toilet early on the morning of Jan. 17, near the Open Door shelter on Parc Avenue. At the time, the shelter was not allowed to remain open overnight due to COVID-19 precautions, though the shelter resumed 24-hour service Sunday.
“Things like this shouldn’t happen in a first-world country,” Moreau said of André’s death. “We should be taking care of our poor, our downtrodden.”
The demonstration comes the day before Quebec’s Superior Court is scheduled to hold a hearing on a legal challenge filed by the Clinique Juridique Itinérante (CJI), a group that supports Montreal’s homeless population. The motion asks that the curfew immediately be suspended for those experiencing homelessness until the issue can be studied further by the courts.
The organization is also asking for the curfew’s application on homeless people to be declared unconstitutional.
In a brief statement on Facebook, the CJI said hearings on the matter will begin Monday morning.
Meanwhile, Montreal police have posted a video to their social media channels, highlighting the work the force does to support the homeless community as they, like all of us, grapple with the pandemic. It makes little direct mention of the curfew.
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