Canada's Quebec retreats on homeless curfew requirement after court order

·2 min read
FILE PHOTO: Protesters walk down a street as they ignore a night curfew imposed by the Quebec government

MONTREAL (Reuters) - The Canadian province of Quebec on Wednesday retreated from a controversial requirement for homeless people to follow a curfew aimed at curbing the spread of novel coronavirus, after a court ruled it put them in danger.

Quebec's Junior Health Minister Lionel Carmant said on Twitter the province would "modify its decree in order to exempt homeless people from the curfew," and not challenge the court ruling.

Quebec, which imposed an 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew on Jan. 9 to combat a second wave of infections, faced criticism over its refusal to exempt homeless people from potential C$1,500 fines for not following the measure, especially after a homeless man unable to find shelter died in a public toilet.

By comparison, the province of Ontario exempted the homeless from a stay-at-home order put in place earlier this month, while France has said the country's poorest citizens would not be penalized by its curfew.

Quebec Premier François Legault opposed changing the rule, arguing residents could pretend to be homeless, while arguing that adequate shelter would be available.

The pandemic has taken a toll on Canada's vulnerable and unhoused. A January study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that Ontario residents with a recent history of homelessness were more likely to test positive for coronavirus, and over five times more likely to die within 21 days of a positive test.

Quebec Superior Court Judge Chantal Masse on Thursday granted an injunction suspending the curfew's application to the homeless, arguing that their "lives, security and health were being put in danger."

Donald Tremblay, director of the Mobile Legal Clinic which spearheaded the court action, said, "It's about time" the government backed off.

"It was completely absurd not to exempt the homeless," he said by phone.

(Reporting By Allison Lampert in Montreal and Anna Mehler Paperny in Toronto. Additional reporting by Richard Lough in Paris)