While Quebec's strict public health measures are finally being scaled back, there are still thousands of court cases in the works as people fight — or ignore tickets — issued for offences ranging from breaking curfew to gathering in homes.
Authorities across the province issued 19,074 tickets for violating the province's Public Health Act between April 1, 2020 and May 31 of this year, according to documents provided by Quebec's prosecution service, also known as the DPCP.
That comes to $28,622,850 in fines. Audrey Roy Cloutier, the Crown's spokesperson, said the Offences and Fines Office compiles the data and it is updated periodically.
Premier François Legault called on police to enforce public health measures early in the pandemic, with fines usually hovering around $1,500 with fees.
Fines as high as $6,000 were possible in certain cases, as the premier said repeatedly, "we cannot allow a minority of people to put the majority at risk."
Montreal tops tickets issued
In Montreal, 6,155 tickets were issued, making it the highest number per municipality, the data shows. That comes out to more than $9.2 million in fines.
That is not surprising as it is also the most populous city in the province, but Quebec City didn't take second place despite being the second largest population. Police there issued 1,774 tickets,
Meanwhile, police were busy in Terrebonne. A total of 1,896 tickets were issued in the city which, located just northeast of Montreal, has a population of about 116,000.
No other municipality topped 1,000 tickets issued.
Some of the highest tickets per municipality include:
Gatineau: 888 tickets.
Joliette: 652 tickets.
Laval: 630 tickets.
Trois-Rivières: 613 tickets.
Longueuil: 602 tickets.
Sherbrooke is not listed in the data.
As for heading to court, 7,001 people pleaded not guilty to the offence while 1,224 pleaded guilty and paid the fine. Another 1,604 people simply paid the fine without entering a plea, and another 2,651 tickets are still pending with no plea or payment made.
A total of 6,694 people had not paid or filed a plea by the legal deadline, the data shows.
Court processing won't be slowed
Roy Cloutier said court processing time has not been slowed by the influx of public health violations. She said recent efforts to improve processing time of all cases are paying off.
She said a defendant who is served a notice must come forward within 30 days by sending a plea. A payment of the amount claimed is taken as a guilty plea.
If a not guilty plea is submitted within the allotted time, legal proceedings will continue and the defendant will receive a notice indicating when to appear in court to challenge the ticket, Roy Cloutier said.
"On that date, if the defendant maintains their not guilty plea, a hearing will take place so that the court decides whether or not they are guilty based on the evidence that will be presented," she said.
As for those nearly 7,000 people who have simply not responded at all to the ticket, proceedings will continue in the absence of the defendant.
"This is commonly referred to as a 'default trial.' Based on the evidence presented by the prosecution, the court will decide whether or not the defendant is guilty," she said.
If found guilty, the defendant will get a bill in the mail, she said.
Health Canada says measures effective
Back in April, modelling from the Public Health Agency of Canada revealed that the stringent public health measures implemented in some provinces slowed the rapid spread of COVID-19.
In particular, provincewide restrictions and lockdowns in B.C., Ontario and Quebec quickly showing results.
Case counts slowly levelled off in most provinces, but the data suggested infection rates were still climbing in Alberta and Manitoba.
"We have reassurance that strengthened measures can slow growth where more contagious variants are circulating, but sustained measures and individual practices are the key to keeping growth down," Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada's chief public health officer, said at the time.
Regardless, a massive protest was held a few weeks later in Montreal. Halfway through, the parade was estimated to span nearly two kilometres.
The protest was one of many held against Quebec's public health restrictions, but it was only after the province's situation began drastically improving last month that the premier announced the gradual return to normal life.