Special Guest Samantha Gold talks about getting vaccinated against COVID-19 in Quebec, Premier François Legault’s comments on Montreal rental prices and more with host Jason C. McLean

Follow Samantha Gold on Facebook @samiamart & Instagram @samiamartistmtl

Follow Jason C. McLean on Twitter @jasoncmclean

Book your Quebec vaccine appointment through Clic Santé according to the schedule

All adult Quebecers who want the COVID-19 vaccine will be able to sign up for their first shot in the next two weeks. Starting tomorrow, those aged 50-59 can sign up, with a new age group added to the list every two or three days.

Quebec Minister of Health and Social Services Christian Dubé made the announcement at an afternoon press conference joined by National Public Health Director Dr. Horacio Arruda and Daniel Paré, director of the COVID Vaccination Campaign.

The rollout is as follows:

  • April 30: Age 50-59
  • May 3: Age 45-49
  • May 5: Age 40-44
  • May 7: Age 35-39
  • May 10: Age 30-34
  • May 12: Age 25-29
  • May 14: Age 18-24

Most of these people will receive the Pfizer-BioNTech Vaccine, though some of it could be from Moderna or Johnson & Johnson (which only requires one dose). This is separate from when Quebec made their remaining AstraZeneca vaccine shots available to people aged 45 and up last week. That campaign is still ongoing and clearly identified as separate on the government’s website.

You can make an appointment for your COVID-19 vaccine shot when it becomes available to your age group through the Clic Santé website

On April 20, 2021 the Superior Court of Quebec issued a ruling on Bill 21, Quebec’s Secularism law which many Canadians were awaiting with baited breath. It was a victory for some, and a tragedy for others.

In its decision, it upholds the Quebec Secularism law with the exception of English schools in Quebec, and the Coalition Avenir du Quebec government under Premier François Legault has already announced its plans to appeal. This article will give a rundown of the ruling itself, the response by those affected, and what it represents to the people of Quebec and Canada.

I’m not going to go into all the nuances of Quebec’s Secularism Law, hereafter Bill 21. I gave a full and detailed rundown in multiple articles when the law was forced through the National Assembly in 2019.

In a nutshell, it severely limits employment in most of Quebec’s public sector as well as access to certain government services for anyone who wears religious symbols, including crosses, hijabs, headscarves, and kipas/yarmulkes. At the time, the government claimed the law would unite Quebeckers, but it has made us more divided than ever. Hate crimes and harassment of Muslim women are on the rise, something experts tried to warn the government about prior to the law’s passing.

The government knew that the law would never survive a legal challenge based on constitutional rights so they wrote in the Notwithstanding Clause, a clause written into Canada’s constitution to allow discriminatory rules to remain in effect for five years notwithstanding certain articles in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It is largely the court’s measure of the effect of the Notwithstanding Clause that decided the outcome of the case.

I knew that no matter WHAT the court’s ruling, someone would appeal the decision. That someone is the Quebec government and it is unfortunate because for the most part, the Quebec government won the case.

Bill 21 is still in effect, and teachers and other people hoping for the stability that comes with public employment have had their hopes dashed, with one exception. The court decided that Bill 21 remains valid due to the province’s use of the Notwithstanding Clause, with the exception of English schools, which are constitutionally protected by a clause in the constitution that isn’t covered by the Notwithstanding Clause, as well as the National Assembly. It is this aspect that the government plans to appeal, claiming that this exception divides Quebec when the province’s society should be united.

William Korbatly, a lawyer, feels the government’s claim that the judge’s ruling split Quebec is erroneous and dishonest.

“[I]t’s the law 21 that did that by making some Quebeckers lesser citizens than those who think of themselves (as) superior or have more privileges just because they are part of the cultural majority. That being said, we cannot deny that a large part of Quebeckers have serious problems and are very allergic to any religious manifestation in public spaces. Thus, politically speaking, that law should be put to the courts’ authorities and they will decide what is constitutional and what is not.”

Unfortunately despite Quebec’s ongoing teacher shortage, English schools in the province will still be subjected to Bill 21 pending appeal.

Carolyn Gehr, an Orthodox Jewish woman and teacher with the Montreal English School Board who wears and headscarf and submitted an affidavit with the other plaintiffs had some choice words about the legal decision keeping the law in force for now.

“I feel horrible for the prospective teachers who enthusiastically applied to the English school boards who desperately need them, only to find out in a day or two that their hopes were dashed yet again, and that this ruling does nothing for them for the foreseeable future. The fact that the government is fighting this so vociferously reinforces in me the idea that I’m not really wanted here, especially in that I’m only allowed in my job as I am because ‘Oncle Francois’ magnanimously grandfathered me in so as not to offend the sensibilities of people who don’t like to see someone fired for no reason.”

M. I. a Muslim teacher working in the private sector who no longer wears her hijab for personal reasons spoke of why she chose to take it off.

“I grew up in a moderately conservative Muslim family and the choice to wear the hijab was mine to make and I chose to wear it until about a year ago. Why I chose to take it off was a completely personal choice because I was no longer wearing it for religious reasons. It just provided me with a sense of comfort and not wearing it felt like going out without my pants on since I had worn it for so many years.”

On Bill 21, she says she and most of her community were very concerned. There was this feeling that this sort of law would never happen in Canada and most members have been directly or indirectly affected.

“I know the law adversely affects all religious communities but as a Muslim woman who used to wear the hijab my feelings are very strong when it comes to the effect the bill has on the women in my community. I find this law to be discriminatory, anti-feminist and anti-human rights. As a woman, I cannot accept that someone can have any say in how I choose to cover myself. I am well-educated and have never been forced by any part of my religion and can say for a fact that his holds true for most women in my community.”

M.I. says the Muslim community is one of the fastest growing minorities in Quebec and that the law, like the hijab ban in France, is just a way of keeping minorities under control. She points out that this open hostility has just led to more anger and extremism among Muslims in France than ever before. Adding, like Carolyn Gehr, that Bill 21 made her feel she didn’t belong.

“I am many things: Iranian, Muslim, Canadian and a Montrealer but a Quebecker I am not. I no longer feel any pride in that.”

Francois Legault and the Coalition Avenir du Quebec and others with clear and open hostility towards visible and religious minorities in Quebec represent the worst elements of Canadian and Quebec society. A society that buys into the narrative of white victimhood and denial of a more honest history that includes everyone who contributed to the great society we have today.

In metropolitan areas like Montreal, more and more people find this attitude dangerous and even laughable and recognize that those who support it can either embrace the diversity that enriches our food and other aspects of our culture, or die with the dinosaurs. That said, let the government know their decision to appeal is a frivolous waste of Quebec tax dollars when there’s a pandemic and a housing shortage to address. The fight’s only over when we the people say it is, so keep fighting.

Featured image of the Palais de Justice in Montreal by Jeangagnon via Wikimedia Commons

Derek Chauvin is now properly referred to as convicted murderer. A jury found the former Minneapolis police officer guilty of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter for kneeling on George Floyd’s neck for nine minutes and twenty nine seconds on May 20th, 2020.

Chauvin now awaits sentencing and could be sent to prison for decades. The three other former police officers who stood by and did nothing while Chauvin murdered Floyd will be tried in August.

A white police officer murdering a black civilian is nothing new. The cop facing consequences beyond being fired or suspended is rare, especially in the US.

So, while many, understandably, are celebrating the fact that there will be accountability for Derek Chauvin and hopefully some justice for George Floyd and that racist and brutal cops actually can be convicted of murder and not always get away with it, it’s important to remember that this doesn’t happen all the time or even frequently. If it did, Chauvin probably wouldn’t have felt perfectly comfortable murdering someone in broad daylight with plenty of witnesses and a camera filming him.

Look at what it took to get to this moment:

  • Solid (and incredibly hard to watch) video evidence that Floyd was in no way able to resist let alone threaten Chauvin
  • A spring and summer’s worth of protests in every major American city, complete with solidarity protests around the world, and the tireless work of BLM and other groups
  • Mounting calls to defund (and in some cases abolish) the police
  • Massive media coverage and pretty much the whole world watching the trial
  • The knowledge that if Chauvin wasn’t charged or walked, things would explode again in the streets
  • 10 hours of jury deliberation after they were presented with some of the most bogus arguments imaginable

Yes, this is a victory and it hopefully will change things, but it’s important not to get complacent. This is in no way proof that the system works, only that it can work in a specific and very public case if enough people force it to.

This isn’t a reason to stop calls to defund the police. Or, for those of you who don’t like the slogan, it’s not a reason to stop calls to take stuff like traffic stops crowd control and dealing with people who may have accidentally passed a counterfeit $20 bill away from people with guns and let a much smaller and better-trained group of people with guns focus on stuff like murder, assault and hostage taking, all the while removing a paramilitary force from our streets (see, the slogan works better).

Murderer murders man in broad daylight, is filmed, and then is convicted of murder shouldn’t be a banner headline, it should be the norm when such a thing happens. And it shouldn’t take hundreds or thousands or millions of people to make it happen, either, just a few of his peers.

Until police indiscriminately murdering black men is what shocks and surprises us and repercussions for those cops is what’s expected, the fight needs to continue.

Until that is the reality, the fight needs to continue.

When I walk into my local major chain grocery store, one of the first fridges I see is filled with bright, fun cans, chock full of sugar and alcohol. One in particular looks just like those red, white, and blue rocket popsicles, and hits me in the nostalgia.

They share the fridge with rows of stylized kombuchas, beckoning to shoppers in an all ages space to take their pick. You can also buy cigs there of course, tucked out of sight these days, but like an old timey speak easy, say the right words and show the right ID, and they open the secret doors. This feels normal now, though I’m old enough to remember when smokes were not only proudly displayed at pharmacy check-outs, but also sponsored just about all our noteworthy festivals.

We embrace vice in Montreal. We embrace it because we believe in joie de vivre and personal freedoms. We love the caché that sexy trinity gives us, and in normal times, we love the tourist dollars that come with it. From our drinking age, to our legal contact dances, Montreal is a haven for adult entertainment in the broadest sense of the term.

Typical Quebec grocery store fridge with fruity alcohol (Photo by Dawn McSweeney)

That’s why it seems so weird that e-cigarettes are slated to come under stricter regulations. Quebec is moving to limit nicotine content in cartridges and liquids to 20%, while also banning flavors. This means that adults will only be able to choose between flavorless, menthol, or tobacco flavored, to pair with their hard root beer.

Before the pandemic, the news was briefly filled with teenagers getting sick from what turned out to be black market THC and CBD vapes made with vitamin E, and who knows what else. While broken telephone caused panic about adults smoking regulated nicotine products, it also seems to have contributed to Quebec’s decision to ban THC and CBD vape products moving forward while other provinces allow them.

During the lockdown, vape shops were considered non-essential. They are the exclusive retailers of e-liquid, refillable vape pens, empty pods, and various bits so you can keep your vape up and running. They often have custom flavors and products that set them apart from each other, creating niche markets.

While plenty of small businesses in the same boat were able to mitigate some of their losses by moving to online platforms or curb-side pickups, vape shops weren’t allowed to do either. In fact, under Quebec law, vape shops can’t sell their wares online, leaving small shops out in the cold, and vapers to find their own alternatives, likely driving money to other provinces or countries.

One small loophole remained: deps continued to sell a limited selection of popular, self contained pod products, and the e-cigarettes associated with them. They had Juul products, and Vuse (previously Vype). Both are relatively pricier options per milliliter, but I dusted off my Juul, and used it until I got sick of it, bought a Vuse, and then paid more than I used to for cigarettes until restrictions eased.

I wondered why these were available. Big box stores had sections closed off in an attempt to even the field, and while I was grateful to be vaping, I couldn’t help but wonder why there seemed to be some favoritism in play on vapes.

A quick search, and I found that the Altria Group (formerly Philip Morris) owns a 35% share of Juul. They already make multiple tobacco flavors including Virginia, Golden, and Classic. Even more fun, our former Health Minister Rona Ambrose joined the Juul board of directors in spring of 2020.

This gave me giggles because in 2014, in her position as Health Minister, she was quite concerned about vapes, flavors, et al, and called for further research. At the time, she said:

“Currently, without scientific evidence demonstrating safety or effectiveness, we continue to urge Canadians against the use of these e-cigarettes. We have heard that e-cigarettes may be a gateway for teens to begin smoking, while also having the potential to serve as a smoking cessation tool. Today, I am asking the Standing Committee on Health to undertake a thorough study on e-cigarettes and provide a report.”

– Rona Ambrose, while Canadian Minister of Health in 2014

So, as I see it, either the research came back clean, or she’s a high paid hypocrite shilling for big tobacco. I’ll wait.

What about Vuse? Oh, they’re owned by British American Tobacco, one of the biggest cigarette players in the world, now making sure they keep their profits up by having a foot in each world.

Maybe I’m paranoid. Maybe self contained pods are just easier to stock. Well, my preferred one and done self contained e-cig is STLTH. They’re founded by a group of ex-smokers with over twenty years of cumulative experience in vape space, and no apparent ties to big tobacco. Their products are exclusively available in dedicated vape shops. Weird, right?

All this is in the name of “think of the children”. Well, I was one once, and I had no trouble getting my hands on cigarettes at 13. Locked in a decades long toxic on-off relationship with butts, I was down to a pack a week, feeling that was a negligible, “harmless” amount to smoke.

I made the switch to vape 2 years ago, and I breathe better. I no longer have that gross morning cough, and my vocal range has returned in a way I never thought it could. My house smells better. Hell, my hair smells better.

I enter an 18+ space, and make my adult decisions, aware that this is harm reduction, not perfection, and that no toxins are better than any toxins. It’s much the same way I think about alcohol.

If eliminating flavors stopped experimental and rebellious kids from doing stuff, alcoholic soda would be banned, and I wouldn’t have ever picked up a regular ol’smoke. If all we do is worry about the children, and 18+ spaces aren’t a good enough way to keep kids out and “safe”, then let’s board up every SAQ and SQDC.

Because as it stands, taking away my flavors looks like it won’t keep vape out of kids’ mouths, but it sure sounds like it will be taking money from small businesses, and giving it right back to big tobacco, one way or another.

Featured Image by Dawn McSweeney

Quebec’s COVID-19 vaccination program is in full swing, but today it hit what could end up being a setback. Quebec Minister of Health and Social Services Christian Dubé announced today that the province is temporarily halting its administration of the AstraZeneca vaccine known as Covishield to people under 55 years old.

This decision follows a small number of cases in Europe where the vaccine was linked to blood clotting in women under 55. While no such cases have been reported in Canada, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization recommended the temporary suspension so more studies can be done.

Quebec and Manitoba have adopted this policy, with potentially more provinces to follow suit. PEI is stopping use of the vaccine for people aged 18-29.

Currently, Quebec is only vaccinating members of the general public over 60 years of age. The government won’t say how many of the 111 000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine it has already administered went to people younger than 55 (healthcare workers, etc.).

While admitting that some appointments may have to be cancelled, Dubé said that Quebec is still on track to have everyone who wants a vaccine be able to get one by June 24th. In addition to AstraZeneca, Quebec is also administering doses of the Modern and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines.

Jason C. McLean and Special Guest Dawn McSweeney go through some of the big Quebec and Montreal news stories:

Quebec and Canada’s ban on flavoured vapes are coming into effect. What will this mean for local business?

Quebec high schools students are back, religious services can have up to 200 people, but there is still a curfew and a ban on home visits. Does this make any sense?

There was a protest against Shiller Lavy’s practices in Mile End that was also a book sale. Dawn was there.

& More!

Dawn Mc Sweeney is an author and FTB contributor, follow her on Twitter @mcmoxy

Jason C. McLean is the Editor-in-Chief of ForgetTheBox.net, follow him on Twitter @jasoncmclean

Lately, people have been sharing COVID-related one year anniversaries. Some are sad or downright tragic, others are thought-provoking and some are kinda silly in retrospect.

Mine is probably closest to the third one, with a bit of the second mixed in.

One year ago this past Saturday, March 13th (it was Friday the 13th back in 2020), I started writing an article for this site called Coronavirus for the Jaded. Don’t bother looking for it, it was never published, or finished for that matter.

I had ten paragraphs written but then had to put it on hold because I had plans that night (remember plans?). The next night I had plans, too.

I went to a bar. I didn’t know at the time, but that would be the last time I would set foot in a bar for a year and counting. Yes, bars were open for a brief time during the summer and I did go to a resto bar and sit on a terrace once, but not inside an actual bar.

The day after my last bar visit, Quebec shut down all bars and in the following week would close a bunch more “non-essential” businesses. My day job shut down as well (no, writing for this site isn’t what pays my bills) and the community theatre play I was in was indefinitely postponed all in the following week.

By the time I came back to my article, it was clear that my hot take was now irrelevant. Life had made my point moot.

Incidentally, today, March 15th, is the one year anniversary of the first time we did published an article on the site about COVID. It was a much more informed jump into the subject than my never-published piece would have been.

It’s important to note, as I did in that unpublished piece, that I am in no way a scientist or disease expert. I was coming at the subject as a casual observer.

So what was my angle? Basically that people like me, jaded by hearing about SARS, Swine Flu and other viruses in the media, should maybe take COVID-19 seriously, that it might actually affect things here in a way its predecessors didn’t.

What did it take for me to come to this conclusion? The final straw was finding out, on the 13th, that three stores in my neighborhood were out of toilet paper.

Warning Signs Noted But Not Absorbed

It’s not like there weren’t other warning signs. A month earlier, a friend, I’ll call her Vicky, had told me she was concerned and thought we all should get ready for a lockdown. While I trusted her opinion a great deal at the time and still do, I thought she was overreacting in this particular case.

I remembered SARS. Everyone thought that would be the big one, including the media at the time.

Yes, it was terrible for some in Asia and a part of Toronto, but it was over in a few months. Nothing changed here in Montreal and they didn’t even shut down all of Toronto.

Then, we got a concert with the Rolling Stones and AC/DC to prove it was all in the past. I was at that show, SARS-Stock they (unofficially) called it.

Why would this be any different? That’s what I told Vicky at the time and have since been proven very wrong.

Of course, there were stories of cases here in Quebec and US President Donald Trump was saying that it wouldn’t be a thing (which instinctively makes me think it will be), but I was still unfazed. I even cracked a joke to someone who was taking it more seriously than I was that I wasn’t feeling that well after drinking Corona Beer over the weekend.

Remember when the similarity to a beer name was common humour? Remember when we still called it Coronavirus and not COVID-19? For that matter, remember weekends?

Empty Montreal streets last March (Photo: Jason C. McLean)

There were clearer signs in the week leading up to my personal realization:

  • The World Health Organization had declared COVID a pandemic on the 11th.
  • The Quebec banned all gatherings of 250 people or more and Trump barred travel from Europe (except the UK) to the US, and those were both on the 12th.

All of this registered with me, but I still saw these as precautionary measures that would soon be lifted. I was also keenly aware that this site would soon need to start writing about the virus.

We had an op-ed focus early last year and while we did share breaking news stories, like the COVID developments I mentioned above, it was only through social media, from other sources, and without comment. If we had been more hands-on with hard news at the time, as we are now, I probably would have been more intellectually concerned, though I’m still not sure the realization would have hit me personally any sooner (there is sometimes a bit of a disconnect between Jason C. McLean who writes and edits on this site and Jason, the guy who goes out and lives a life).

Now to be clear, I had spent the few weeks leading up to my realization feeling self-conscious every time I coughed or had a runny nose in public. This wasn’t out of actual fear that I may have caught COVID-19, but rather out of fear that people might think, erroneously, that I had.

I had adopted the John Oliver recommendation (at the time) that we didn’t have to run for the hills, but we also shouldn’t start licking the poles in the metro either. I washed my hands after entering people’s homes, but only out of respect for my friends and family’s concerns, not out of any feeling that it was actually needed.

Empathy for Over There

I never doubted for a moment that COVID was real and truly horrible for many people. Of course I also never doubted that tornados and tsunamis were real and truly horrible for many people, just for people somewhere else.

Should we be empathetic towards those people? Of course. Should we do our best to help them, financially or otherwise? Definitely. Should we worry that a tornado will touch down on Sherbrooke Street or a tsunami will wash out all but the Mountain and plan accordingly? Um, no. Why would you suggest that?

It’s not that Montreal doesn’t get its fair share of disasters and tragedies. In my lifetime, we’ve had an ice storm and two school shootings, not to mention the West Island floods every once in a while.

It’s also not like there aren’t deadly viruses that travel. It’s just that there hadn’t been an outbreak here of one in over a century.

Quebec Premier François Legault giving a COVID-19 Press Conference February 18, 2021 (YouTube Screengrab)

A truly global pandemic seemed to me the stuff of movies. Like a zombie apocalypse and about as likely.

Turns out it’s the stuff of wearing a mask everywhere, not hanging out with friends in person and getting what stores you can shop at and when you have to be home from Quebec Premier François Legault via YouTube. Honestly, the end of COVID will be the end of me watching that guy live, hopefully.

The Takeaway

So why am I marking the anniversary of starting a post I dodged a credibility bullet by not finishing or publishing a year ago? It’s because it took no toilet paper in the stores in my neighbourhood to realize that COVID-19 was something that could affect my life.

It took something directly tangible for me to personally and emotionally understand something that was already apparent to me intellectually. I don’t think I was the only one.

For some, the realization may have come with a loved one, or themselves, infected with the virus. For others, it might have been losing a job. Fortunately, for me, it was only toilet paper, or the lack thereof.

While it’s unlikely anyone will meh the prospect of another pandemic in the near future, what about other existential threats like Climate Change? While we might intellectually believe that it’s an imminent threat and even try to fight it as best we can, do we really personally fear what might happen to us, or will it take all the polar ice caps actually melting for that to happen?

If you take away anything from this article, take this: Don’t just listen to scientists when shit has already hit the fan, listen to them when they warn of what they think could be on the horizon. The nightmare scenario may not always happen, but now we all know that it just might.

Featured Image by Downpatrick via WikiMedia Commons

Last night’s SuperBowl game may not have been the nail-biter it was supposed to be, but the halftime show was a bright spot. This was, of course, due to The Weekend’s performance, but also quite literally thanks to Montreal company PixMob.

They did this by effectively turning the audience and performers into the lighting grid with wearable technology. They gave live attendees 22 500 LED wristbands to wear and placed 30 000 adapted ones on the cardboard cutouts the NFL was using to space out the socially-distanced crowd.

Performers on the field carried powerful LEDs known as “flares”. Meanwhile, The Weekend’s choir wore 75 LED masks and 150 face shields with light-up eyes.

The whole effect was quite spectacular. Have a look, if you haven’t already:

This is PixMob’s third Super Bowl Halftime Show. In addition to the big game, they have worked on some big-name tours such as Shawn Mendes and Taylor Swift. Currently, they are using their technology to help fight the pandemic with SafeTeams, an initiative which helps events re-open safely with distancing and tracing.

Featured Image of the PixMob team ahead of last night’s Super Bowl

Homeless people are now exempt from Quebec’s 8pm to 5am curfew thanks to a ruling early this evening from the Quebec Superior Court. Judge Chantal Masse ruled that “the measure as worded would not apply to people experiencing homelessness” given that homeless people don’t have a home to go to at night.

Quebec Premier François Legault has repeatedly rejected calls from opposition leaders, the Mayor of Montreal, and others to give homeless people a curfew exemption. Now, with the ruling, his refusal is moot, at least until February 5th (the ruling exempts the homeless until then).

A group of legal-aid lawyers called the Clinique Juridique Itinérante brought the case on behalf of the homeless. Masse agreed with the plaintiffs, saying that “the measure infringes the right to life, liberty and security of the person protected by the Canadian and Quebec charters for people experiencing homelessness.”

There is no word on whether or not the Legault Government plans to appeal the decision.

Featured image of the Palais de Justice in Montreal by Jeangagnon via Wikimedia Commons

Quebec is now officially under an 8pm to 5am curfew which began Saturday night and is scheduled to last for four weeks. This is the first time there has been a curfew here since the October Crisis of 1970.

While previous and current measures implemented by Premier François Legault’s government to slow the spread of COVID-19 have been about restricting what we can do (selected business closures and bans on gatherings) or hygiene (masks and hand sanitizers), this one is different. It’s not about what we can do, but when we can do it.

First, it’s important to stress that COVID-19 is a very real threat and Quebec’s numbers are the highest they have been since the start of the pandemic. Any measures that will significantly drop the spread of COVID are worth implementing. Full stop.

That said, will this new strategy work? I honestly don’t know, but I don’t think Legault does either.

Unlike the premier, or at least unlike what he says publicly, I have my doubts as to the effectiveness of fighting a virus that spreads at any hour, day or night, by restricting the specific hours we can be outside of our homes.

I wonder if it could end up having an opposite effect to what is intended. Well, let’s start with a hypothetical, though very plausible scenario…

For Your Consideration

Let’s say there are 100 people who all live in the same area and go for a walk each day. 70 of them take their walks during the daytime, while the other 30 prefer a quieter walk at night.

Now impose an 8pm to 5am curfew.

The 30 people who walked at night and want to keep active now have to take their strolls during the daytime to avoid breaking curfew and getting fined. The other 70, meanwhile, continue their daytime walks.

So, instead of 70 people out during one period of time and 30 during another, we now have 100 people on the streets of the same area in the same period of time. We now have crowded sidewalks where social distancing is more difficult.

Likewise, night time grocery shoppers in the same area now have to get their shopping done before 8pm alongside the daytime shoppers. There will be more people in the stores at the same time and when the store hits its limit of patrons, lines will form outside, creating additional obstacles for the increased number of people going for a walk.

Grocery store and depanneur employees will be exposed to more people seeing as the stores will have the same number of customers, but these will now be spread out over fewer shifts. Also, many of these employees will pack public transit at the same time to get home before curfew.

So, in this scenario, the risk of COVID-19 transmission actually increases, albeit minimally, even if everyone is wearing masks and trying to socially distance as much as possible.

Quebec’s Director of Public Health Dr. Horacio Arruda made the same argument I just did a lit quicker when asked about curfews in the March 16, 2020 presser (this video should start at the right spot, but if it doesn’t, skip ahead to 14:32):

A Very Real Problem For The Homeless

Meanwhile, Quebec’s homeless population faces a situation that is very much not hypothetical, nor is it just an inconvenience. Fining or even harassing someone who can’t afford a place to live for being outside past curfew is just plain cruel and appalling.

Legault’s claim that there “is enough room available” in shelters is out of touch at best and willfully ignorant at worst. The situation wasn’t great before the pandemic began and while shelters have been able to find some additional space in old hospitals, social distancing requirements offset quite a bit of that.

Also, there have been COVID outbreaks in shelters, prompting many this past summer to set up tents instead of taking the risk.

A petition demanding that homeless people be exempt from curfew enforcement and fines already has over 6500 signatures.

More Than An Inconvenience

When it comes to people who have homes, yes, for some, like me, the curfew is a mild inconvenience. Well, in my case it’s a mild inconvenience mixed with a bit of existential dread.

I have a roof over my head, set my own schedule and have access to friends and family via the internet. I don’t need to go for a walk or the dep after 8pm, but the fact that I am not allowed to scares me.

Others aren’t so fortunate:

  • People who work a standard 9-5 or 10-6 shift from home now have limited hours for exercise, grocery shopping or even a bit of fresh air.
  • People from visible minority communities who work at night and are legitimately heading home or to work may be disproportionately stopped and harassed by police who now have wild discretionary powers to enforce the curfew (and without the potential of a citizen journalist passing by and filming the encounter).
  • People in domestic abuse situations who minimize the risks by going for long walks at night when the abusive partner is home no longer can.
  • People who, for their own mental stability, just need to get out of the house at night (for whatever reason).

What the Government Actually Wants

One thing that became clear in the press conference announcing the curfew and in subsequent pressers by government officials is that people going for strolls or buying groceries at night as well as the homeless are just collateral damage. Their real target is people visiting friends or family at home in small gatherings that bend or slightly break the rules.

The government admitted that they didn’t see that many large parties (those get reported and shut down anyways), but knew there were many small gatherings (which are harder to track). A curfew may eliminate some of those, but the rest will just move to the daytime or have their friends stay over or catch the first metro home once the curfew lifts at 5am.

The curfew will also put an end to people gathering outdoors in parks at night. Now, if this was the summer, that would have a measurable impact, but it’s not. It’s frickin’ January in Montreal!

Sure, there may have been some people out there previously risking hypothermia along with COVID who now won’t be able to. So add them to the people who decide not to crash at their friends’ places or gather earlier.

Is that enough reduction in potential transmission to offset the potential increase by having everyone go for walks, buy groceries and take public transit at the same time? Best case scenario, (that I can see) yes, but not by much. Worst case: COVID numbers actually continue to rise more.

Curfew Success Stories

It’s true that curfews have been part of successful COVID fighting packages of measures. The key word here is packages.

In Italy, they went from nothing except maybe wash your hands more to a full-on lockdown that included a curfew. Yes, that worked, but going from nothing to everything doesn’t prove that one part of the everything, the curfew, solved the problem.

In Melbourne, they imposed a curfew along with several other measures. As a great editorial in The Gazette points out, though, their success wouldn’t have been possible without serious restrictions on the manufacturing sector, including meat packing plants, something Legault hasn’t done.

He isn’t even keeping the schools closed (there’s even a petition now to implement more safety measures in schools) or halting construction. It’s akin to fighting climate change by banning plastic bags and straws without doing anything to curb the giant corporate polluters.

Shock and Not Much Else

In the press conference, Legault and his colleagues referred to their move as “shock therapy” and shock is just what we have seen since the curfew took effect. Images of deserted Montreal streets and highways from Saturday night coupled with stories of large fines for people being outside their homes after 8pm filled our newsfeeds Sunday morning.

Given that last time we had a curfew here, it was for a terrorist threat, having one now, 50 years later, is most definitely a shock to the system.

Yes, it may shock some of the people visiting friends to stay home. It may also shock people like me, who have been following the rules and doing our best to fight the virus, while at the same time trying to retain some semblance of normalcy by not thinking about COVID 24/7, into being more perma-disturbed.

But the question remains: Will it shock the spread of COVID-19 so we also get the awe of the numbers going down significantly? Or is this just a bit of performative paternalistic pandemic management that will do much more harm than good?

While I hope it’s the former, I feel like it may be the latter.

Legault Knows Best?

While Legault’s initial reaction to the pandemic was swift and in line with nothing but the facts, it seems like since the fall, his government’s approach has been guided by a different principle: Protect the 9-5 economy as much as possible, it’s social gatherings that are to blame!

Now while the virus most definitely can spread when people from different households have dinner and drinks at home, it also can spread at school or in a manufacturing plant. For Legault, though, work is important, socialization with those you don’t live with isn’t.

It’s beyond capitalism, it’s the preservation of whatever the Quebec version of Norman Rockwell is at all costs. It even took a numbers spike too big to ignore to get them to cancel Christmas gatherings.

When the numbers kept going up, rather than re-think their strategy, Legault and his government decided to ignore other options like keeping schools closed or restricting manufacturing and construction and double-down on it. Instead of admitting their approach was wrong, they’re going to implement extreme measures to force it to be right.

It seems like the curfew is a strategy to prove Papa Legault knows best regardless of the consequences rather than one to effectively stop the spread of COVID-19.

For all our sakes, I hope I’m wrong.

The rumours were true, or at least most of them were. Quebec Premier François Legault announced in a press conference that Quebec will be under an 8pm to 5am curfew from January 9 to February 8.

As of Saturday and for four weeks, anyone outside at night without a valid reason will face a fine between $1000 and $6000. Work is the only valid reason Legault specifically cited, but there probably will be others.

At first, police will ask people outside if they have a valid reason. Legault said that they are working on a form or a system for people to prove they have a valid reason for being outside.

Grocery stores and depanneurs are asked to close at 7:30pm so their workers and customers can make it home for 8. Deps attached to gas stations are allowed to stay open after 8, as are pharmacies.

Movie and TV production will continue at night and the Canadiens can still play hockey despite the curfew. People in Northern Quebec are exempt as well.

Legault and Public Health Director Horacio Arruda both said that this move was to curb visits in homes. While they acknowledged that there were no big holiday parties, but people did visit homes in smaller numbers, which they want to stop.

While much of this was expected following the stories circulating yesterday, one thing wasn’t: primary schools will resume in-person classes on January 11th as planned and high schools will start online then go in-person on January 18th.

Quebec Premier François Legault had scheduled a press conference for today (Tuesday) at 5pm then rescheduled it for tomorrow. It looks like this extra day is to give the government time to work out some of the details of a possible curfew with public security agencies.

According to La Presse (and then later reported by other sources), Quebec is headed to a total lockdown that will last a few weeks. This will surpass the current January 11th target date for non-essential businesses and schools to re-open.

As with the partial lockdown the province imposed in Spring 2020 at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, non-essential businesses and schools will be closed. This time, though, it looks like the construction industry will be as well.

The real difference with this lockdown could be a curfew beginning Saturday. According to the report, it would run from as early as 8 or 9 pm until the morning.

La Presse says that Public Health requested the curfew as Quebec’s COVID-19 numbers continue to rise and threaten the healthcare system’s ability to operate effectively. The government now needs to figure out the details of how such a thing can be implemented with various police forces.

We will update you when we get the official word from Legault’s press conference.