Police in Quebec can no longer fine people for being homeless after eight o’clock.
In a cutting decision delivered late Tuesday, Superior Court judge Chantal Masse ordered the provincial government to exempt people without housing from a curfew that subjected them to fines of up to $6,000 for being outside after 8 p.m.
Masse said the curfew put the lives of homeless people at risk and that the province’s network of shelters doesn’t have the capacity to provide a warm bed for all its unhoused people. She also rejected the government’s argument that police were only ticketing those who refused help, citing evidence from the plaintiffs that showed a lack of discretion from officers.
In sworn testimony presented to Masse, one man said he’d been jailed twice and fined $3,100 since the curfew came into effect nearly three weeks ago. The man has a diagnosis of schizophrenia as well as an alcohol use disorder and has been banned from shelters in Montreal and Laval because of his drinking problem. He had little choice but to spend his nights outside.
Masse’s decision comes after Premier François Legault repeatedly backed police in the face of criticism from public health advocates, the mayor of Montreal, a federal cabinet minister and every opposition party in the National Assembly. Opposition to the crackdown on homelessness reached a fever pitch last week after a 51-year-old man reportedly froze to death outside a shelter that had been closed because of a COVID-19 outbreak last month.
After “Napa” Raphael André was found dead in a portable toilet early on Jan. 17, Legault said that if he were to exempt the unhoused from Quebec’s curfew, people would pretend to be homeless so they could wander the streets at night.
Masse wrote that there are roughly 3,000 homeless people in Montreal, and police will be able to manage not enforcing the curfew on such a tiny population.
The curfew was meant to apply to all Quebecers in hopes that it would curtail the spread of COVID-19. In practice a number of exemptions have been made, including for parents in co-parenting situations and workers with a letter from their employer deeming their travel essential. While new daily cases have gone down since the measure came into effect, street workers across the city say it caused homeless individuals to hide from police and put themselves in danger.
The law firm Trudel Johnston and Lespérence challenged the curfew on the grounds that it violates homeless people’s right to liberty and security and that it constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.