As of tomorrow, the Quebec City, Lévis, Gatineau regions will go back on pause for ten days. This means non-essential businesses will close, including gyms, movie theatres and hair salons, just as they were in January. Also in those areas, schools will close, religious services will be limited to a maximum of 25 people and the curfew will run from 8pm to 5am once again, instead of starting at 9:30pm.
The Montreal and Laval regions aren’t affected at this time and will remain at the current level of restrictions for now. This is the first time since the start of the pandemic that restrictions have been stricter in other regions than they are in Montreal.
Quebec Premier François Legault made the announcement late this afternoon in a press conference joined by Christian Dubé, Minister of Health and Social Services, and National Public Health Director Dr. Horacio Arruda. The Premier attributed the measures to a spike in COVID-19 cases in the affected regions that didn’t materialize to the same extent in Montreal or Laval, something he admitted they were surprised to see.
The Greater Quebec City area, as well as the Outaouais, Chaudière-Appalaches and Bas Saint-Laurent regions will also be reclassified as Red Zones from Orange Zones, meaning indoor dining and other activities will end. Home visits remain barred across the province.
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.
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.
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.
On Tuesday March 17, 2021 a white gunman walked into three massage parlors in Atlanta, Georgia and killed eight people, most of them Asian women. On March 18, 2021, a thirty-nine year old man was attacking people of Asian descent in San Francisco, starting with an 83 year old Chinese man. The attacker’s second victim was 76 year old Xiao Zhen Xie, who grabbed the first stick she found and fought back, resulting in her attacker having to be brought to the hospital on a stretcher.
Outrage exploded online in response, and hashtags like #StopAsianHate and #stopwhiteterrorism began trending. As an Asian Canadian, an artist, and an activist, I simply rolled my eyes and sighed.
Though the Chinese have been in North America since before Confederation, Asian Canadians are no strangers to racism. I’ve been fetishized when online dating due to misguided notions of Asian women as exotic and submissive. I have white relatives who refer to Filipinos – my and my mother’s people- as “the help”. Stereotypes about the alleged dangers of MSG, the exotic foods we eat, and myths about Asian bodies continue to exist among whites, even while they appropriate our fashions, our cooking methods and our fighting styles.
The global COVID-19 pandemic has only made things worse. It’s not just violent assaults like what happened in Atlanta and San Francisco. It’s the vandalism of Montreal’s Chinatown. It’s white vegans like Bryan Adams blaming Asian meat eating for the spread of the virus. It’s politicians calling COVID-19 the “China Virus” and “Kung Flu”. It’s harassment in the streets. It’s the refusal to support Asian businesses. For those of us who are mixed, like myself, it’s the refusal to accept “Canadian” as an answer when asked what we are. Whatever form it takes, it’s a pathetic attempt by whites to terrorize people and remind us of a truth we are well-aware of:
That no matter what we do, no matter how long we’ve been in Canada, no matter how well we speak English and French, no matter how much money we put into the economy, we will never be acknowledged as Canadians because we’re not white or white-passing.
It must be said that those attacking Asians are weak, pathetic, and stupid. They are weak and pathetic because those committing anti-Asian hate crimes are largely targeting women and the elderly, probably thinking they’d be an easy mark.
They are stupid because they cannot tell the difference between the Chinese, Japanese, Filipinos, Koreans, Vietnamese etc., and are particularly dumb because they think that myself and the rest of the community will be polite in the face of all the abuse. The fact that an elderly Chinese woman with no grasp of English was able to put her attacker in the hospital is proof we won’t go quietly. When I saw that article I smiled because I know my mother and late grandmother would have responded in the exact same way: by fighting back.
It is reassuring that most responses to the hate crimes have been outraged and supportive, but it’s not enough. If you don’t speak out against hate crimes, you are complicit in perpetuating them, and you leave us, Canadians and Americans, to fight alone.
Speak out if you hear someone using anti-Asian slurs or speaking of Filipino immigrants as a commodity that can be bought and sold. Call out cultural appropriation and whitewashing when you see or hear it, and support organizations like the Center for Research Action on Race Relations that promote racial equality and combat racism in Canada.
That said: if you are fine with all of the harassment and assault and you truly believe Asians are to blame for this pandemic, do us a favour. Put down the soy sauce, the Sriraracha, sesame oil, and the Sushi. Quit the martial arts class you’re taking, give away your Bruce Lee movies and posters, and avoid our markets. You do not get to profit off the contributions of Asians in North America if you won’t treat us with the same dignity you expect from others.
We’re better off without you, and we’re not going anywhere.
This Saturday, Niki Ashton will be taking part in a Zoom Conference with former British Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn called Building Solidarity. The progressive NDP MP and Niall Ricardo of Independent Jewish Voices discuss the conference and the controversy surrounding it with host Jason C. McLean.
Building Solidarity: A Conversation with Jeremy Corbyn and Niki Ashton streams Saturday, March 20 from 1-3pm (ET). Tickets are Pay-What-You-Can and available through Eventbrite
While all of Quebec remains under curfew, as of tomorrow, it will run from 9:30pm until 5am across the province, even in Red Zones such as Montreal. For over two months, it started at 8pm but people living in Orange Zones got the 90 minute delay as of last Monday.
Quebec Premier François Legault made the announcement late this afternoon in a press conference joined by Christian Dubé, Minister of Health and Social Services and National Public Health Director Dr. Horacio Arruda. The Premier said that while there was an increase in COVID-19 cases following March Break, it was “nothing dramatic” and therefore the change in curfew time was possible.
Legault also stressed that indoor gatherings are still forbidden. Theatres and show venues, though, can re-open as of March 26th.
The Premier also said that he expects everyone over 65 will be vaccinated against the virus by mid-April. He also believes everyone who wants a vaccine, regardless of age, will be able to get it by June 24th.
With variants on the virus still out there, Legault warned that “we have to stay very careful for a few more weeks.”
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?
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.
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.
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
Jason C. McLean speaks with comedian Preach, the host of this year’s Gala Dynastie, a celebration of Black excellence from across Quebec. They talk about comedy during COVID, this Saturday’s online edition and this year’s theme: The Rise of the Engaged.
The 5th Edition of Gala Dynastie streams live this Satruday, March 6th, at 6pm. For tickets and for more info: GalaDynastie.com
Quebecers outside of the Greater Montreal Region will see some COVID-19 restrictions loosen when they pass into an Orange Zone after March Break (so Monday, March 8th). Montrealers and people living in Laval, Montérégie, the Laurentians and the Lanaudière region still have to wait at least a month before they leave the Red Zone.
Quebec Premier François Legault made the announcement about the new Orange Zones in a press conference late this afternoon joined by Christian Dubé, Minister of Health and Social Services and National Public Health Director Dr. Horacio Arruda. He didn’t initially give a timeline for when Montreal would leave the Red Zone.
When asked by reporters, though, Legault said that while COVID numbers haven’t been increasing, new strains of the virus are now present in Montreal, which might make cases and hospitalizations rise again in the region. He feels that successfully vaccinating the most vulnerable, which is supposed to take a few weeks, will create a climate where restrictions can be loosened in the Greater Montreal Region as well.
In Orange Zones, gyms and show venues can re-open, restaurants can once again welcome dine-in customers and houses of worship can have a maximum of 25 people for services. Home visits, except for when someone lives alone, are still banned.
Legault says the government will be adding sports options in Red Zones and that he is looking into possibly re-opening show venues and increasing capacity at places of worship there as well.
The curfew will remain in effect across Quebec, but only begin at 9:30pm in Orange Zones while still running from 8pm to 5am in Red Zones.
Host Jason C. McLean and Special Guest Niall Clapham Ricardo discuss Canada’s Parliament voting for the Conservative Party motion to declare China’s treatment of the Uighur minority a genocide. Is this genuine concern for what is a real and tragic situation or is it political brinksmanship setting up the next Cold War? Are we ignoring other atrocities in China and around the world? Are we conveniently forgetting our own capitalist interests in the situation?
With a pandemic still raging and plenty else to bring down the spirits happening on this planet, we finally get some news from outer space. Mars, in particular.
Last Thursday, NASA landed a rover called Perseverance on the surface of the Red Planet. While this is not a first, success isn’t always the case in missions like this, so it is kind of a big deal.
On Monday, NASA released a video of the successful landing (releasing such a video is a first):
Perseverance launched from Earth seven months ago, has six wheels and is roughly the size of a small car. It also carries a Mars helicopter called Ingenuity which will make the first-ever powered flight on another planet as it plans the best routes for future Mars rovers.
The rover also carries quite a bit of high tech equipment to take and analyze samples as well as to photograph the Martian environment. Most notable of the photo equipment is the Mastcam-Z, which has already produced two 360 Panorama shots on the surface, like this one taken in the Jezero Crater:
You can see all the images and panoramas and download them as extremely high res images through the NASA website.
NASA has also released audio from Mars through its SoundCloud channel (yes, NASA has a SoundCloud channel). One includes the noise the rover makes itself and this one excludes it, to give you an idea of what Mars sounds like:
Perseverance’s primary mission is to “seek signs of ancient life and collect samples of rock and regolith (broken rock and soil) for possible return to Earth. ” It has one Martian year, or 687 Earth days to complete it.
Hopefully this means we’ll be getting more images. It’s nice not to write an op-ed about something that pisses me off, but rather about something interesting and inspirational. Even if the story comes from another planet.
As of this Thursday, Montrealers born in 1936 or earlier can register online or by phone to be vaccinated as of next week against COVID-19. Quebecers in the same age group living outside of Montreal can sign up for their vaccines the following week.
Quebec Premier François Legault made the announcement during a press conference at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, one of the large venues turned into makeshift public vaccination centres.
Quebec is currently using the Pfizer vaccine, which requires two doses. When people get their first dose, they will be given an appointment for their second, which the government hopes will be within 90 days.
The plan is to give as many people as possible in the first group their first dose in the next two weeks and then move on to the next group. The government hasn’t decided if it will favour Montreal for the next stages as well as it is in the first.
The government has a list of ten ranks for its COVID vaccination priorities. This includes groups like people in seniors’ residences who have already, for the most part, been vaccinated. It does not include the 85+ group announced today.
While nothing is 100% certain, when it comes to the general population, the rollout list now looks something like this (source: Montreal Gazette)
People 85 years old and older
People 80 to 85 years old
People 70 to 79 years old
People 60 to 69 years old
Adults under 60 with a risk of complications from COVID-19
Essential workers and other health-care workers
Ultimately, every adult in the province is supposed to be vaccinated by the fall, but this is contingent on Quebec receiving all the vaccine doses, including the Moderna vaccine doses, they are expecting.
People must travel to a vaccination centre to take the Pfizer vaccine.
People can sign up for vaccines at quebec.ca/vaccincovid or by calling 1-877-644-4545. The government asks that people only call when it’s their group’s turn
Canada’s COVID-19 numbers may be improving and the vaccine rollout continues, but the pandemic is still very much here with new variants of the virus showing up. That reasoning has prompted the Federal Government to extend recovery benefits.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced several extensions in a press conference early this afternoon. The Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB), Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit (CRSB) and Employment Insurance (EI) are all affected:
CRB (as well as the Canada Recovery Caregiver Benefit) will be extended to cover 38 weeks. It was previously covering 26 weeks.
The CRSB will now cover four weeks of missed work at $500. It previously covered two weeks at that rate.
EI availability will now be extended to 50 weeks. It was previously 26 weeks.
Trudeau applauded the province’s efforts to fight the pandemic but cautioned them against re-opening too quickly. He also repeated his promise that every Canadian who wants to be vaccinated against COVID will be by the fall.