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‘Crushing civil rights’: Lawyers question legality, health benefits of ‘draconian’ curfew in Quebec

Last Updated Mar 10, 2021 at 6:04 pm MDT

MONTREAL – For the last two months in Quebec, you haven’t been allowed to go out after 8 p.m. in red zones unless you’re an essential worker.

So, with gatherings prohibited, many people have been honing their skills in hobbies picked up during the pandemic – like baking bread, arts and crafts – or continuing to binge on Netflix.

But eight weeks later, people are starting to go stir crazy and some have even begun ignoring the rules altogether.

“What started off as a drip, slow chisel, has turned into an absolute free-fall to no longer having any value or any respect for core democratic civil right principles,” said David Freiheit, a lawyer and YouTuber.

Almost 8,000 tickets have been handed out for breaking COVID-19 health measures in Quebec since the start of the pandemic, totalling $11.7 million in fines.

The Turcot Interchange is shown during a curfew in Montreal, Saturday, January 9, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. The Quebec government has imposed a curfew to help stop the spread of COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Graham Hughes

“The curfew is a measure that overshoots the mark in that it does restrict rights and freedoms in a way that is not justified or reasonable,” said Cara Zwibel with the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. “And I think it’s questionable whether it was ever justified or reasonable to have the curfew.”

Montrealers have received the most of Quebec’s infractions nearly 2,400 of the 8,000. Tickets can range from $1,000 to $6,000, but some say the effectiveness of the curfew has yet to be measured.

“This process cannot be an on-and-off thing, we have to do it slowly, gradually and we have to monitor the effects and get ready to change them if needed,” said Dr. Huang Duong, the president of the Association of Internal Medicine Specialists of Quebec.

“When [Dr. Horacio Arruda] says there’s no concrete evidence to support the effectiveness of a curfew, to stop the spread of a virus, how do you then go into implementing such a draconian wartime measure?” said Freiheit.

“I think that’s another thing to examine down the road is how effective is this kind of punitive approach where we fine people in some cases for doing things that again, pose no threat to public health,” said Zwibel.

Quebec is currently inoculating those 70 and over, with more than 1.7 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines expected by the end of March in the province. The virus has ended 10,000 lives in Quebec and almost 300,000 Quebecers were infected since the pandemic began.

“If we can protect the vulnerable people well maybe we could take more risks in lifting some of the restrictions,” said Duong.

“People don’t appreciate the damage that we have done to a free and democratic society in response to a virus that ought to have been taken seriously from the beginning, arguably wasn’t and one of the consequences a government that didn’t pay enough attention, in the beginning, is now crushing civil rights and civil liberties a year over later,” said Freiheit.