Quebecers mostly comply with first COVID-19 curfew, but 'no vacancy' in Montreal shelters

·4 min read
Quebecers mostly comply with first COVID-19 curfew, but 'no vacancy' in Montreal shelters

Premier François Legault thanked Quebecers for following the rules on the first night of the province's COVID-19 curfew, but Montreal homeless advocates say nearly all emergency beds were filled and more space will be needed to meet the surge in demand.

"We have a no-vacancy sign up," said James Hughes, the Old Brewer Mission's president and CEO. "Everything is full."

In a tweet sent Sunday morning, Legault recognized the work of police officers, who were out Saturday night into Sunday morning enforcing the new measures.

On Saturday night, the first night of the month-long curfew, police officers handed out dozens of tickets in places such as Montreal, Sherbrooke and Quebec City, including to people who were protesting public health measures.

Montreal police say they issued 84 tickets, and Quebec City police, 31. Officers from the Sûreté du Québec, which patrols the province's highways and some municipalities, handed out more than 150 tickets.

In a news release, the SQ said apart from a few incidents, the population complied with the overnight lockdown.

Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press
Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press

Until Feb. 8, only those with a valid reason can be outside from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. throughout much of Quebec.

Authorities hope the curfew will help cut down on the number of private gatherings, which are thought to be a leading contributor to COVID-19 infections.

The number of new cases in Quebec has been rising steadily since early November. On Saturday, the province reported more than 3,000 cases in a single day for the first time.

Essential workers who are working or travelling to and from their jobs, and people going to pick up items at a pharmacy are among those who can be out during the curfew.

Those who break the rules are subject to fines of between $1,000 and $6,000.

Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press
Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

Now, many are wondering if a curfew will even help dampen the spread COVID-19.

Simon Bacon, a behavioural medicine professor at Concordia University, said data tends to show that, where curfews have been enacted, transmission of the virus is curbed.

Overall, people in Quebec and the rest of Canada have adhered to public health directives and he expects that trend will continue with the curfew.

However, the government's lack of clarity and transparency has likely contributed to the frustration demonstrated by protestors, as many people would be more apt to follow rules if the timeline was more concrete, Bacon said.

"It's a bit like running a marathon and someone saying, 'the end line is going to be somewhere. It's out there. Trust us. It's coming,' but you don't quite know where," Bacon said.

"All they have said until now is, 'but you need to hurry up. You need to go faster.'"

No tickets issued to homeless people in Montreal

Montreal police tweeted a statement saying they assisted a number of homeless people Saturday night without issuing them any tickets.

Last week, Legault said the curfew rules would apply to the homeless as well; remarks that homeless advocates said were out of touch given the limited number of beds in the city's shelters.

Ahead of the curfew coming into effect, Montreal police reassured organizations that work with the homeless that officers would refer them to the proper resources instead of ticketing them, said Émilie Fortier, director of services at the Old Brewery Mission's St-Laurent Boulevard campus.

WATCH | Quebec's public health restrictions explained:

Fortier explained the challenge is to find the right resource to suit a person's specific issues. The later it gets, the fewer options there are — there are places that might have space but who don't take people in at 2 a.m., she said.

That challenge is made worse by the lack of space.

Nearly every emergency bed across the city was taken, even with all the new facilities, said the mission's president on Sunday.

Now organizers are trying to add more beds to the system. That may mean finding more staff and opening new facilities, Hughes said.

"Overall, we are stable, but very tight," he said. "We will just have to keep going at it."

Advocate says not enough being done to support homeless

Nakuset, the executive director of the Native Women's Shelter, said it's good that no tickets were issued on the first night, "but who knows what's going to happen in the future? Who knows what kind of pressure they're going to be under to give tickets?"

She said the point, however, is that there are very few safe spaces for those who have nothing, and not enough is being done to help them.

She suggested the army could be brought in to help in the shelters, like they did in the province's long-term care homes, or tents could be set up in parks to act as warming areas.

"Can you imagine being homeless, and walking around the streets with nowhere to go, and nobody in sight?"