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Reporter Debrief: New COVID Curfew Sparks Protests In Montreal

Montreal skyline.
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Hundreds of people in Montreal protested a new, tighter COVID-19 curfew over the weekend.

Protests in Montreal turned raucous Sunday night as the city pushed up its curfew from 9:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. The stricter measures come as Quebec and much of Canada see spiking COVID-19 case numbers and a vaccine rollout that's much slower than here in the U.S.

More than half of the 3,200 new cases over this past weekend were among Quebecers who are younger than 40.

VPR’s Henry Epp spoke with the CBC’s Kate McKenna, who has been covering the developments in Montreal. Their interview is below and has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Henry Epp: So, can you tell us what exactly happened on Sunday night, particularly in the Old Port section of Montreal?

Last night, Quebec reintroduced an 8 o'clock curfew in Montreal. And, you know, it's not a fringe belief that that's very frustrating for a lot of people here. I mean, it's getting sunnier. There have been kind of what a lot of people are calling like "yo-yo" public health measures, like they're changing kind of on the fly. And a lot of people have suspicions or beliefs that perhaps a curfew won't actually help curb the spread of COVID-19.

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So, there were a few hundred people who went down to the Old Port, which is a super touristy district of Montreal. And they were, for the most part, you know, peacefully protesting. But then once the police started intervening and trying to end the protest, that's when things got a little bit more violent. A number of protesters smashed windows, storefronts, set things on fire.

And, you know, I was out there this morning — and you probably know this, it's not totally unheard of for a Montreal protest to end in some vandalism — but I was actually kind of shocked at the amount of vandalism that I saw when I was out walking.

And can you talk through a little bit more of what the reasoning was for the tightening of the curfew and why the reaction was so strong to this?

A lot of Canadian cities are entering the third wave of COVID-19. Montreal has also seen recently a small uptick in cases. Ontario, our neighbor, is seeing huge numbers.

I think part of the frustration is that [Quebec] Public Health reintroduced this curfew last week, saying that it was a preventative thing in Montreal because other parts of Quebec are seeing kind of spikes in numbers like Quebec City and a region called the Chaudière-Appalaches. But here in Montreal, that hasn't been the case yet. So, I think there's a lot of frustration over that.

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And then there's also frustration because we know where a lot of these outbreaks are coming from and they're coming from schools and workplaces. Yet the curfew is reintroduced, but there didn't seem to be anything that specifically tackled workplace outbreaks or school outbreaks. And so, I think that's a lot of the frustration.

People feel like they're being punished for going outside and enjoying a walk when it's finally nice outside after what has been a really long winter. And as I said at the beginning, it's not a fringe movement.

Going a little bit further into the demographics of people that have come out and protested this move. I saw some video of protesters chanting “freedom for the young.” I mean, is this a particularly young demographic that's coming out and wanting to roll back this curfew?

Yeah, it did seem to be people in their late teens to maybe early 30s who were out protesting against it. Restaurants here have been closed since October. There's really very limited things you can do kind of socially. For a lot of people they feel really cooped up. And then to add the curfew on top of that, I think is really hard on a lot of people, especially single people who don't go home to a family. So, you can totally understand why people would be frustrated about a curfew.

Finally, Kate, Canada's vaccination rate is significantly lower than the U.S. According to Johns Hopkins immunization tracker, just over 2% of Canadians are fully vaccinated. That's compared to about 20% here in the U.S. How are people reacting to that slower vaccination rollout in Canada?

I think Canadians are very aware of what's happening in the United States. I have a lot of Americans on social media, so I see all of these people I know who are my age who are being vaccinated, and it just like, reminds me every day that I have not been vaccinated, you know? I feel like a lot of Canadians have vaccine envy.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch with reporter Henry Epp @TheHenryEpp.

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