Quebec’s COVID-19 curfew will not change very much for people already respecting public health measures, but should serve as a deterrent to those who haven’t been, Public Security Minister Geneviève Guilbault said Thursday.
At a news conference, Guilbault said the goal of the curfew isn’t to make people’s lives more difficult, but rather to crack down on the “minority” of people still flouting the measures.
“For those who still like to gather with friends, the ball game just became way more difficult,” Guilbault said, reiterating that police officers can hand out tickets ranging from $1,000 to $6,000.
The curfew will be in effect as of Saturday as part of Quebec’s latest lockdown measures. Quebecers will be asked to stay home between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m. until at least Feb. 8.
There will be exceptions — including for people working later shifts — but for the most part, Guilbault said, the idea is that people should be in their homes come evening and not leave until morning.
“After 8 p.m. you cannot circulate in the streets, whether walking or in your car,” the minister said. “And if you are indeed outside your home, you can be intercepted at any time by police and you will have to explain why.”
People with yards will be allowed to be outside on their property after 8 p.m. Dog owners will also be allowed to walk their pets past curfew within a one-kilometre radius of their home.
Those who are out past curfew for work reasons will need to have proof from their employer, which could come in the form of a signed letter. Quebec published a sample certificate on the government’s website Thursday.
People will also be allowed to be out for “humanitarian reasons” and emergencies.
Examples of exceptions given Thursday included a person going to the pharmacy for medication, someone going to the hospital, or a parent driving their teenage child to work.
It will be up to individual police forces to decide how to best apply the curfew and where to deploy resources.
Guilbault said she’s counting on police officers across the province to “act diligently” and use their judgment in applying the measures.
She said she believes that in most situations, it will be obvious whether the person is breaking curfew for a valid reason or not.
In interviews Thursday, civil rights advocates questioned whether the curfew could have a disproportionate impact on racialized people and more vulnerable communities.
Michael Bryant, the executive director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, said he worries police being allowed to stop anyone after 8 p.m. is a “recipe for racial profiling.”
He urged officers to show leniency when dealing with the homeless population or lower-income families.
“What’s crucial is how the curfew is enforced,” Bryant said. “Our concern is that the enforcement history in Quebec during COVID has been overzealous and has lacked discretion.”
Alexandra Pierre, president of the Ligue des droits et libertés, said a curfew is an exceptionally restrictive approach and questioned whether Quebec tried every other measure before resorting to it.
Pierre said she’s concerned about how much of the enforcement has been left to police officers’ discretion , both in terms of who gets stopped and who gets ticketed.
“Social and racial profiling still exists,” Pierre said. “And police have just been given a lot of discretionary power.”
In a statement released Thursday, the Montreal police department said it’s ready to “rigorously” enforce the curfew. It will have its legal team clarify the scope of officers’ powers once the governmental decree is issued, it added.
The force said officers will use a “preventive and adapted” approach when dealing with vulnerable communities, including people experiencing homelessness.