It’s been a tough year. A virus is killing people left and right, and Quebec is under curfew from 8 pm to 5 am every day in an attempt to curb its spread. Leaders have had to make tough choices, and that includes Côte-des-Neiges— Notre-Dame-de-Grâce borough mayor Sue Montgomery.

In addition to running the borough through the pandemic, Montgomery has been dealing with issues with Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante that culminated in Montgomery’s expulsion from Plante’s party, Projet Montréal and her victory is Superior Court against the City of Montreal in December 2020. I had an opportunity to speak to Montgomery by phone about the pandemic and her recent legal victory.

We spoke just after Quebec had announced the curfew. When asked about the new rules, Montgomery pointed out that no one has ever been through a pandemic like this before. She spoke of how adherence to the new measures speaks to a broader sense of civic responsibility among the citizens of the borough.

“I understand the frustration with people…We’re all tired, we’d like get back to work, but the bottom line is that everyone has to do their bit,” she said, repeating the public health guidelines of hand-washing, mask wearing, and social distancing. “The sooner we all start doing that, the sooner we can get back to normal.”

As to what role the borough has in the implementation of public health guidelines, Montgomery points out that the province sets the rules and municipal governments are there to play a supportive role. The borough’s activities include supporting community organizations that help the less fortunate and vulnerable, mentioning the unemployed, elderly, and disabled. She noted that since the start of the pandemic, the demand at food banks has skyrocketed.

Montgomery mentioned that the unusual circumstances created by the pandemic have brought to light certain issues, such as the need for affordable housing to combat homelessness, and places for people to be able to relieve themselves with dignity, as safety measures have made it impossible for people to avail themselves of toilets in restaurants and cafes. The latter is not only a disability issue, but also a sanitation issue.

Regarding her recent Superior Court victory, Montgomery’s feelings are mixed: she’s thrilled at her win and she’s saddened by the fact they had to go through it.

For those of you who don’t know what led to Montgomery’s expulsion from Projet Montréal, here’s a quick summary:

Sue Montgomery was elected Borough Mayor of CDN-NDG in November 2017 as a member of Valérie Plante’s Projet Montréal. When she took office, she brought with her Annalisa Harris, her chief of staff.

Harris and the Borough Director, Stephane Plante (no relation to the mayor) clashed, with the latter claiming psychological harassment by the former. The City of Montreal ordered a report that they claimed confirmed psychological harassment by Harris of the Borough Director and Mayor Plante demanded that Montgomery fire her.

Montgomery refused, requesting to see the report first. The City of Montreal refused to provide it, and Montgomery refused to fire Harris without proof of misconduct.

In response, Plante kicked Montgomery out of her party. After numerous attempts to settle the dispute amicably, it ended up in court.

The Superior Court, presided over by Judge Bernard Synnott, ruled in Montgomery’s favor, confirming the claims of psychological harassment by Harris were bogus, but also affirming elected officials’ authority over bureaucrats like the Borough Director, and allowing her access to the aforementioned report.

The City of Montreal had until January 11, 2021 to appeal the decision, but there’s no news of them filing an appeal.

Despite every road block, Montgomery is positive about all she’s been able to accomplish. As for Plante’s role in the events leading up to the legal decision, Montgomery has some choice words:

“Had Valérie Plante done her job from the get-go and read this report about so-called harassment, we wouldn’t be in this situation. Because of this court procedure, I have now been able to get the report and there is nothing in there that could even be remotely considered psychological harassment. There’s been a lot of effort, a lot of money, a lot of drafts throughout this last year because Valérie Plante didn’t do her job… Valérie should have supported me the way I supported Annalisa. She preferred to not take a stand.”

Montgomery says she stood by Annalisa Harris because it was the right thing to do, and rightfully points out that to fire her without evidence would have been illegal under Quebec labor law. She feels she handled it as best she could. Montgomery gave Annalisa Harris a choice as to whether to fight the accusations or not because the borough mayor would not fire her, speaking highly of her chief of staff’s abilities.

Montgomery knows that the issues leading up to her victory in court will still need to be addressed but she is prepared to offer an olive branch to the City of Montreal and Mayor Plante. With the municipal elections in November 2021, Montgomery confirmed that she is running again and is creating a new party, though the name of it is still in the works.

Featured Image: Sue Montgomery running for CDN-NDG Borough Mayor in 2017 (photo by Samantha Gold)

Quebec is now officially under an 8pm to 5am curfew which began Saturday night and is scheduled to last for four weeks. This is the first time there has been a curfew here since the October Crisis of 1970.

While previous and current measures implemented by Premier François Legault’s government to slow the spread of COVID-19 have been about restricting what we can do (selected business closures and bans on gatherings) or hygiene (masks and hand sanitizers), this one is different. It’s not about what we can do, but when we can do it.

First, it’s important to stress that COVID-19 is a very real threat and Quebec’s numbers are the highest they have been since the start of the pandemic. Any measures that will significantly drop the spread of COVID are worth implementing. Full stop.

That said, will this new strategy work? I honestly don’t know, but I don’t think Legault does either.

Unlike the premier, or at least unlike what he says publicly, I have my doubts as to the effectiveness of fighting a virus that spreads at any hour, day or night, by restricting the specific hours we can be outside of our homes.

I wonder if it could end up having an opposite effect to what is intended. Well, let’s start with a hypothetical, though very plausible scenario…

For Your Consideration

Let’s say there are 100 people who all live in the same area and go for a walk each day. 70 of them take their walks during the daytime, while the other 30 prefer a quieter walk at night.

Now impose an 8pm to 5am curfew.

The 30 people who walked at night and want to keep active now have to take their strolls during the daytime to avoid breaking curfew and getting fined. The other 70, meanwhile, continue their daytime walks.

So, instead of 70 people out during one period of time and 30 during another, we now have 100 people on the streets of the same area in the same period of time. We now have crowded sidewalks where social distancing is more difficult.

Likewise, night time grocery shoppers in the same area now have to get their shopping done before 8pm alongside the daytime shoppers. There will be more people in the stores at the same time and when the store hits its limit of patrons, lines will form outside, creating additional obstacles for the increased number of people going for a walk.

Grocery store and depanneur employees will be exposed to more people seeing as the stores will have the same number of customers, but these will now be spread out over fewer shifts. Also, many of these employees will pack public transit at the same time to get home before curfew.

So, in this scenario, the risk of COVID-19 transmission actually increases, albeit minimally, even if everyone is wearing masks and trying to socially distance as much as possible.

Quebec’s Director of Public Health Dr. Horacio Arruda made the same argument I just did a lit quicker when asked about curfews in the March 16, 2020 presser (this video should start at the right spot, but if it doesn’t, skip ahead to 14:32):

A Very Real Problem For The Homeless

Meanwhile, Quebec’s homeless population faces a situation that is very much not hypothetical, nor is it just an inconvenience. Fining or even harassing someone who can’t afford a place to live for being outside past curfew is just plain cruel and appalling.

Legault’s claim that there “is enough room available” in shelters is out of touch at best and willfully ignorant at worst. The situation wasn’t great before the pandemic began and while shelters have been able to find some additional space in old hospitals, social distancing requirements offset quite a bit of that.

Also, there have been COVID outbreaks in shelters, prompting many this past summer to set up tents instead of taking the risk.

A petition demanding that homeless people be exempt from curfew enforcement and fines already has over 6500 signatures.

More Than An Inconvenience

When it comes to people who have homes, yes, for some, like me, the curfew is a mild inconvenience. Well, in my case it’s a mild inconvenience mixed with a bit of existential dread.

I have a roof over my head, set my own schedule and have access to friends and family via the internet. I don’t need to go for a walk or the dep after 8pm, but the fact that I am not allowed to scares me.

Others aren’t so fortunate:

  • People who work a standard 9-5 or 10-6 shift from home now have limited hours for exercise, grocery shopping or even a bit of fresh air.
  • People from visible minority communities who work at night and are legitimately heading home or to work may be disproportionately stopped and harassed by police who now have wild discretionary powers to enforce the curfew (and without the potential of a citizen journalist passing by and filming the encounter).
  • People in domestic abuse situations who minimize the risks by going for long walks at night when the abusive partner is home no longer can.
  • People who, for their own mental stability, just need to get out of the house at night (for whatever reason).

What the Government Actually Wants

One thing that became clear in the press conference announcing the curfew and in subsequent pressers by government officials is that people going for strolls or buying groceries at night as well as the homeless are just collateral damage. Their real target is people visiting friends or family at home in small gatherings that bend or slightly break the rules.

The government admitted that they didn’t see that many large parties (those get reported and shut down anyways), but knew there were many small gatherings (which are harder to track). A curfew may eliminate some of those, but the rest will just move to the daytime or have their friends stay over or catch the first metro home once the curfew lifts at 5am.

The curfew will also put an end to people gathering outdoors in parks at night. Now, if this was the summer, that would have a measurable impact, but it’s not. It’s frickin’ January in Montreal!

Sure, there may have been some people out there previously risking hypothermia along with COVID who now won’t be able to. So add them to the people who decide not to crash at their friends’ places or gather earlier.

Is that enough reduction in potential transmission to offset the potential increase by having everyone go for walks, buy groceries and take public transit at the same time? Best case scenario, (that I can see) yes, but not by much. Worst case: COVID numbers actually continue to rise more.

Curfew Success Stories

It’s true that curfews have been part of successful COVID fighting packages of measures. The key word here is packages.

In Italy, they went from nothing except maybe wash your hands more to a full-on lockdown that included a curfew. Yes, that worked, but going from nothing to everything doesn’t prove that one part of the everything, the curfew, solved the problem.

In Melbourne, they imposed a curfew along with several other measures. As a great editorial in The Gazette points out, though, their success wouldn’t have been possible without serious restrictions on the manufacturing sector, including meat packing plants, something Legault hasn’t done.

He isn’t even keeping the schools closed (there’s even a petition now to implement more safety measures in schools) or halting construction. It’s akin to fighting climate change by banning plastic bags and straws without doing anything to curb the giant corporate polluters.

Shock and Not Much Else

In the press conference, Legault and his colleagues referred to their move as “shock therapy” and shock is just what we have seen since the curfew took effect. Images of deserted Montreal streets and highways from Saturday night coupled with stories of large fines for people being outside their homes after 8pm filled our newsfeeds Sunday morning.

Given that last time we had a curfew here, it was for a terrorist threat, having one now, 50 years later, is most definitely a shock to the system.

Yes, it may shock some of the people visiting friends to stay home. It may also shock people like me, who have been following the rules and doing our best to fight the virus, while at the same time trying to retain some semblance of normalcy by not thinking about COVID 24/7, into being more perma-disturbed.

But the question remains: Will it shock the spread of COVID-19 so we also get the awe of the numbers going down significantly? Or is this just a bit of performative paternalistic pandemic management that will do much more harm than good?

While I hope it’s the former, I feel like it may be the latter.

Legault Knows Best?

While Legault’s initial reaction to the pandemic was swift and in line with nothing but the facts, it seems like since the fall, his government’s approach has been guided by a different principle: Protect the 9-5 economy as much as possible, it’s social gatherings that are to blame!

Now while the virus most definitely can spread when people from different households have dinner and drinks at home, it also can spread at school or in a manufacturing plant. For Legault, though, work is important, socialization with those you don’t live with isn’t.

It’s beyond capitalism, it’s the preservation of whatever the Quebec version of Norman Rockwell is at all costs. It even took a numbers spike too big to ignore to get them to cancel Christmas gatherings.

When the numbers kept going up, rather than re-think their strategy, Legault and his government decided to ignore other options like keeping schools closed or restricting manufacturing and construction and double-down on it. Instead of admitting their approach was wrong, they’re going to implement extreme measures to force it to be right.

It seems like the curfew is a strategy to prove Papa Legault knows best regardless of the consequences rather than one to effectively stop the spread of COVID-19.

For all our sakes, I hope I’m wrong.

The rumours were true, or at least most of them were. Quebec Premier François Legault announced in a press conference that Quebec will be under an 8pm to 5am curfew from January 9 to February 8.

As of Saturday and for four weeks, anyone outside at night without a valid reason will face a fine between $1000 and $6000. Work is the only valid reason Legault specifically cited, but there probably will be others.

At first, police will ask people outside if they have a valid reason. Legault said that they are working on a form or a system for people to prove they have a valid reason for being outside.

Grocery stores and depanneurs are asked to close at 7:30pm so their workers and customers can make it home for 8. Deps attached to gas stations are allowed to stay open after 8, as are pharmacies.

Movie and TV production will continue at night and the Canadiens can still play hockey despite the curfew. People in Northern Quebec are exempt as well.

Legault and Public Health Director Horacio Arruda both said that this move was to curb visits in homes. While they acknowledged that there were no big holiday parties, but people did visit homes in smaller numbers, which they want to stop.

While much of this was expected following the stories circulating yesterday, one thing wasn’t: primary schools will resume in-person classes on January 11th as planned and high schools will start online then go in-person on January 18th.

Quebec Premier François Legault had scheduled a press conference for today (Tuesday) at 5pm then rescheduled it for tomorrow. It looks like this extra day is to give the government time to work out some of the details of a possible curfew with public security agencies.

According to La Presse (and then later reported by other sources), Quebec is headed to a total lockdown that will last a few weeks. This will surpass the current January 11th target date for non-essential businesses and schools to re-open.

As with the partial lockdown the province imposed in Spring 2020 at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, non-essential businesses and schools will be closed. This time, though, it looks like the construction industry will be as well.

The real difference with this lockdown could be a curfew beginning Saturday. According to the report, it would run from as early as 8 or 9 pm until the morning.

La Presse says that Public Health requested the curfew as Quebec’s COVID-19 numbers continue to rise and threaten the healthcare system’s ability to operate effectively. The government now needs to figure out the details of how such a thing can be implemented with various police forces.

We will update you when we get the official word from Legault’s press conference.

Christmas shopping can still happen in person this year, but Quebec’s Boxing Day is cancelled for 2020 due to an increase in the province’s COVID-19 numbers.

In a press conference late this afternoon, Quebec Premier François Legault announced restrictions on businesses following two different timelines.

Non-essential retail stores must close from December 25th to January 11th. The official list of what’s considered essential and what isn’t is out on the government’s website.

It’s similar to last spring’s lockdown with grocery stores, pharmacies, hardware stores, depanneurs, the SAQ, the SQDC and pet stores allowed to remain open. There will be at least one big difference, though:

Big box stores like Costco and Wal-Mart will be allowed to open if they sell essential items like food, medicine and household products, but they will be restricted to only selling those items during the lockdown and not unessential ones like toys, TVs and books that they sell when everything is open. This, according to Legault, is to help small businesses which sell the same items.

Hair salons, manicurists and estheticians will also have to close during this period, but dental and eye care, which are deemed medical services, can remain open.

The other new rules will be in effect from December 17th to January 11th:

  • Office workers must work from home during that time unless their physical on-site presence is essential to the service being provided.
  • Quebec’s Yellow Zones will become Orange Zones and Orange Zones will become Red Zones.
  • Elementary and High Schools, which are already on break and scheduled to come back after the holidays, will remain closed until January 11th.

While indoor gatherings remain banned in Red Zones for people who don’t live together, people who live alone can now insert themselves into one family bubble. People who live alone can also still have one person over.

Up to eight people can now gather outdoors on public space for outdoor activities like hiking, skiing and hockey. It is still forbidden to gather in outdoor private spaces like backyards.

Quebec’s Red Zone restrictions, which currently cover Montreal and most of the province, will remain in effect until January 11th.

In a press conference today, Premier François Legault announced that his government is scrapping plans to allow gatherings of up to 10 people between December 24th and 27th. Originally proposed two weeks ago (and scheduled to run from the 21st to the 27th), this temporary reprieve of COVID-19 restrictions was coupled with a “moral contract” for those gathering to self-isolate for the week before and after the holidays.

Legault cited a rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations as the reason for backtracking on the earlier plan. Hospitalizations have risen to over 700, with 1500 daily cases on Wednesday and 1400 on Thursday.

“If we continue in this direction,” he said, “hospitals will start to overflow. We have a limited number of nurses, and our nurses are very tired.”

Under the current Red Zone rules, people who live alone are allowed one guest.

While police will continue to issue fines, Legault says he is relying on people’s “sense of responsibility” to ensure that the rules are respected.

Montreal is a city of ghosts. Usually when I tell people this, I’m bitterly referring to the fact that while I was living abroad for over a decade, most of my Montreal friends went and moved away  — or, even worse — grew up. After recently participating in the online version of the Haunted Montreal tour, I learned that Montreal is indeed a city of ghosts, but in the more literal sense.

Due to the latest round of COVID-19 red zone lockdown measures (Tabarnak!), the always-popular Haunted Montreal ghost tours have been, like much of our 2020 lives, relegated to purgatory of Zoom video-conferencing.

The tour started with Donovan King, founder of Haunted Montreal, standing in front of a green screen that at first cycled through campy Halloween backdrops.

As the presentation got rolling, King presented an introduction of Montreal’s early founding and colonial history, and why that has perhaps led to our humble island home being such a haunted place.

The bulk of the hour-long presentation involved King recounting four vignettes about Montreal’s haunted past, illustrated by historical images on the green screen behind him. The four tales were drawn from a mixture of the various in-person tours usually offered by Haunted Montreal: Haunted Downtown, Haunted Mountain, Haunted Griffintown, paranormal investigations of local haunted sites, and the always-popular Haunted Pub Crawl.

Being a history nerd, I appreciated learning about these macabre Montreal legends, most of which I had not heard before. These stories were in steady hands with Donovan King, who is a seasoned storyteller.

King’s background in both acting and history makes him the ideal vessel to disseminate these creepy snippets of Montreal lore. His delivery was part authoritative history professor and part P.T. Barnum, complete with makeshift sound effects and even a minor jump scare or two.

The tales included that of the ill-fated tale of Simon McTavish, and how his death led to sightings of cadavers tobogganing down the slopes of 1820’s Mount Royal. King went on to detail how much of Montreal’s shiny downtown was built on burial sites — both Native American and early European, as well as mass burial pits from Cholera outbreaks in the 1800s. A thumbnail sketch of Montreal’s cemeteries was also full of welcome factoids.

The climax of the presentation came with a recounting of the tragic story of Headless Mary Gallagher. The murdered prostitute is said to still haunt a certain intersection in Griffintown on the anniversary of her grisly death, every seven years.

The online Haunted Montreal Ghost tours will be running all winter long, with a special presentation being held on Halloween night at 7pm. Regularly updated stories about Montreal’s creepy past can also be found on the Haunted Montreal blog. I look forward to participating in tours led by some of the other talented Haunted Montreal presenters.

Oh…an odd thing happened just after the tour (Insert X-files theme whistle here). I closed my laptop and sat on a couch in the basement of a 100-year-old NDG house, listening to the radio and taking notes on the tour.

Suddenly, I heard static, and an old rock song from the 1960s replaced the newscast I had been listening to — the radio changed channels all on its own — which is something it has never done before. I experienced full-body goosebumps, turned off the radio, and ran upstairs like a terrified five-year-old.

So if you do take the tour…turn on your radio afterwards and see what happens. Warning: results may vary (insert Vincent Price’s Thriller laughter here)

Full disclosure: Jason C. McLean, Editor-in-Chief of Forget the Box, is a tour guide at Haunted Montreal. Matt Poll, this post’s author, is not.

The Haunted Montreal Virtual Ghost Tour is currently running in English and French. Visit hauntedmontreal.com for more

Featured Image: Haunted Montreal

Now that the second COVID-19 lockdown has taken effect here in Montreal and people are upset with the Legault Government for its seemingly haphazard approach (no gatherings but schools are still open), I think it’s a good time to take a trip back to last week. Way back when our Federal politicians were responding to the pandemic by doing exactly what a Minority Parliament should do — or at least some of them were.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh not only knows how to do his job effectively, he excels at it. He currently has the job of both opposition leader in a Minority Parliament and the head of a party that, at its core, looks out for the average working-class Canadian.

Last Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s governing Liberal Party delivered their Throne Speech, complete with tons of unnecessary pomp and circumstance. I’m talking about a five minute minivan ride from the Senate Building to the House of Commons and back to pick up the MPs who had already agreed to attend, all carried on live TV.

The speech itself was full of platitudes and vague promises. That didn’t stop the Conservative Party, our Official Opposition, from saying that they would vote against it because there was nothing specifically for the West. The Bloc Québécois, meanwhile, indicated that they would vote against it unless there were extra transfers to the provinces (to Quebec, really) without conditions on how the money was to be spent, so a no-go.

Since the Liberals are a Minority Government and the Throne Speech is one of those things that needs to pass if they are to hold power, all eyes shifted to the NDP. Singh’s New Democrats are the only remaining party that holds enough seats to avoid a fall election by voting with the Libs in favour of the speech.

Turning Words Into Action

In his press conference following the speech, Singh said that the Throne Speech was just “words on paper” with no real-world effect. He made it clear that if the Libs wanted the NDP to vote Yea on it, they needed to turn some of that flowery language into legislation before the vote.

In particular, Singh outlined that the NDP wanted two things:

  1. When the government transitions the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) to the Canadian Recovery Benefit (CRB), they won’t claw back $400 a month and turn $2000 a month into $400 a week every two weeks. The bi-weekly approach is fine for the NDP, but they want it kept at $500 a week.
  2. Federal paid sick leave for Canadian workers.

This set off a predictable series of questions from reporters trying to get Singh to make a firm commitment on the Throne Speech vote, casting what he was asking for as amendments. Singh held his ground and even corrected one journalist who erroneously claimed that no other legislation was possible before the Throne Speech vote.

Turns out Singh was right. Bill C-2 is currently being tabled in Parliament with the changes the NDP asked for.

This legislation dealing with the transition from CERB to CRB will no longer cut $400 a month from benefits. Singh announced this negotiation victory in a Facebook post last Thursday:

Justin Trudeau and the Liberals wanted to cut help for people unable to work because of COVID-19 by 400$ a month.We…

Posted by Jagmeet Singh on Thursday, September 24, 2020

Then, last Friday evening, we got word that C-2 would also include a massive extension of access to paid sick leave. And with that, news that the NDP would vote for the Throne Speech, provided, of course, C-2, when tabled, includes the negotiated changes, which it does.

That, my friends, is how you do it. You don’t focus on electoral politics or that weird little cult the PM was part of (We Charity), you recognize that a political opponent needs your support to survive and you use this as an opportunity to get some concrete policy that will actually help people enacted in exchange for it.

This isn’t a time for political glory, but rather one of policy success. Sure, it’s Justin Trudeau who will be proverbially signing the cheques, but everyone knows Jagmeet Singh raised the amount on them.

You don’t ask for the moon, either. Instead, ask for a couple of things that are major, but that you also have a real chance of getting.

As for the Liberals, this was a real no-brainer. On one hand, they could accept a couple of changes that would only endear them to the left and the recipients of the benefits while, at the same time, not lose any corporate donors because they “had to do it” to get the NDP on board. On the other hand, they avoid an election during a pandemic that they very well may be blamed for.

Minority Parliament FTW

Minority Parliaments in recent years (recent decades, to be honest) have been treated by the public, the media and the Members of Parliament themselves as placeholder governments. The party in power just wants to turn it into a Majority, while the opposition parties are looking for the right moment to bring the government down without being tagged with it going into a new election.

That’s unfortunate, considering what Minority Parliaments have achieved in the past. In 1966, for example, a Minority Parliament passed our first National Universal Healthcare law.

That was also a Liberal Minority Government being supported/propped up and pushed further left by a strong NDP.

Who knows what we’ll get if the Trudeau-Singh show keeps going? Some are even speculating Universal Basic Income (UBI).

Sure, UBI may be a pipe dream, but we currently have the right plumbers for it. Even if it doesn’t happen, though, our current Minority Parliament may achieve more than any Liberal or Conservative Majority has in the past half-century.

At the very least, though, we can be happy that, for the first time in a long time, a Minority Parliament is behaving the way it should.

Featured image by Makaristos via Wikimedia Commons

Quebec Premier François Legault announced today “with a heavy heart” (as he put it), that the provincial government is placing the Greater Montreal Region (including Laval and the South Shore), the Quebec City region and the Chaudière-Appalaches region on Code Red due to the increase in COVID-19 cases. This takes effect midnight on Wednesday (early morning Thursday) and means:

  • A ban on home gatherings (with a few exceptions)
  • Bars and casinos must close
  • Restaurants must be takeout or delivery only
  • Movie theatres, libraries and museums must close
  • Houses of worship and funeral homes will have a 25 person limit
  • Being less than two meters apart will be prohibited
  • Masks must be worn at demonstrations

It’s interesting to note that schools will remain open. According to Legault, this is so parents can still go to work. As such, businesses like hair salons and hotels will remain open.

In spite of indoor public gatherings of up to 250 people being allowed, Montreal’s annual Fantasia Film Festival has opted to go online this year due to COVID-19. The event is described as a “cutting-edge virtual festival, taking place August 20 to September 2, 2020.” Among the festival’s offerings this year is the film Anything for Jackson, a horror film whose subject matter is reminiscent of the 1970s films of the same genre. I had the privilege of speaking with star Konstantina Mantelos about her role, and the effect the pandemic has had on the film industry.

Anything for Jackson is about Mantelos’ character, Shannon Becker, who at eight months pregnant is kidnapped by a pair of elderly Satanists, played by Canadian actors Sheila McCarthy and Julian Richings. The two Satanists are hoping to bring back their dead grandson via a Satanic ritual involving Becker’s unborn child. When I pointed out the similarities of the plot to 1970s horror films, Mantelos enthusiastically agreed.

“When the director and writer first met with me they referenced Rosemary’s Baby meets Hereditary. They really pulled on a lot of older, classic horror film ideas and they modernized it. They’ve taken a new twist on horror films that are happening right now and used these themes as metaphors for real life things that we face. It sounds like a zany concept, but there’s a lot of love in the story, there’s a lot of themes of motherhood and caring for those you love, and that’s really what’s at the centre of the story.”

Konstantina Mantelos

I wondered if given this ongoing trend in horror, Mantelos felt the film’s subject matter was especially relevant given the current apocalyptic times, or whether Anything for Jackson was just a bit of fun. Mantelos laughed and said it was a bit of both.

“I think there’s an interesting factor in the story, an older couple trying to bring back their grandson with no regard for the fact that they are doing this to a young woman who has her future ahead of her and who has this child that she would love and be her own. There’s a sort of selfishness there, as well-meaning as these two are, as you’ll see in the film that they are quite endearing, at the end of the day there is a sort of slightly larger metaphor of older generation: what’s happened to the planet, what we as a younger generation are facing now. There’s a little bit of that. We discussed it when we were working on the film that we think is not a prominent theme in the film, but what I think can be gleaned from it.”

When I asked which of the countless horror sub-genres Anything for Jackson fell into, Mantelos said that despite the subject matter seeming quite campy, the movie sits more within the realm of reality.

“The stuff that we’re facing is quite out of this world, but the way it’s dealt with is in a quite down to earth, dark manner.”

Given the intensity of the part she plays in the movie, I was curious as to the challenges she faced working on the film. Mantelos laughed at this question, discussing the challenge of playing someone who is eight months pregnant when she herself has never been pregnant.

She did some research and reached out to friends who have been pregnant. Mantelos speaks affectionately about how helpful her co-star Sheila McCarthy was when speaking about her own pregnancy experience, and about the extreme emotional and physical changes involved. She described the heavy jelly-filled pregnancy vest she had to wear throughout most of the filming day, and the challenge of being chained to a bed for much of the film.

Given all the talk in the media about the decline in the arts due to the pandemic, I wanted to know how it had affected Mantelos’ work. She pointed out the obvious decline in auditions she was getting, as well as many productions shutting down.

“Funny story, we shot this film — it was a three-week shooting schedule. We literally wrapped on the day that all production got shut down. I essentially went from this very hectic, busy shooting schedule to coming back home to Toronto and essentially being stuck in my house!”

Sheila McCarthy and Julian Richings in Anything for Jackson

Though auditions have shut down, Mantelos has found a way to make the best of things. She has used the isolation to be productive on personal projects, including screenwriting and producing, which she’d never had time to sit down and give the attention they needed. She mentions that being stuck at home allowed her to complete the first draft of a script she was working on.

When I asked her what else she was getting up to during the pandemic, Mantelos mentioned doing a movie marathon, where she watched a film every day and posted about it on Instagram. Though she no longer watches one every day, she’s already reached 160 movies, mostly fiction. In addition to the movie marathon, she has also been baking, recently making a strawberry and cream bread from The Hobbit Cookbook.

Given how much adapting the arts have had to do since the pandemic started, I asked Mantelos if she thought the changes would be permanent. In response, she mentioned that Anything for Jackson is set to come out on Super Channel Fuse in October, which was planned in advance.

“They’re doing a really wonderful job, and part of it is nice because things like Fantasia are things I always wanted to participate in or have participated in and attended, but a lot of people don’t know that there are things that the public can buy tickets to and the average Joe can get tickets to a big movie premier, and it’s really amazing that it’s accessible. In that way it’s nice because now people are going to be able to access the premier all across Canada, and that’s something wouldn’t have happened if we were doing a traditional red carpet premier in the theatre.”

Anything for Jackson premieres tomorrow, September 1, 2020, as part of the 2020 Fantasia International Film Festival. Info and tickets available through FantasiaFestival.com

This time of year, the world’s largest comedy festival Just for Laughs is normally in full swing in Montreal (and we’re generally knee-deep in coverage). We knew a few months ago that 2020 would be different, with the festival officially pushed back to the fall.

Today JFL announced that the entire event will take place over two days, October 9th and 10th, and be entirely online. This is due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the surrounding uncertainty over what type of event they would be able to run, given the heavy presence of international talent usually relies on.

“With no precise indication of when borders will reopen, and faced with soaring demand for high-quality digital comedy content, we’ve made the decision to move our festival online,” JFL President Bruce Hills said in a press release, “while always maintaining our focus on the excellence of our offerings – an excellence that is recognized and appreciated throughout the world.”

Just for Laughs is still sorting out the details, but so far we know that this year’s festival will consist of comedy performances, panels, conversations, gatherings and events. They promise to do their best to recapture the feel of the in-person festival as much as possible and that most of the festival will be free to virtually attend.

While the English event will be 100% virtual, its sister festival Juste pour rire will offer a combination of in-person, pre-recorded and virtual performances. According to Charles Décarie, President and CEO of the Just For Laughs Group:

“More than ever, we want to maintain our position as an industry leader by creating innovative comedy events that allow our artists to work and to make the highest-quality comedy available to the public. Despite all the changes our industry has been going through, the most important thing for us is to satisfy our festival-goers. We’re sparing no effort to present the best festival possible, while respecting the health measures that are in force.”

For more information: hahaha.com

We are in the midst of a global pandemic. COVID-19 is ravaging the United States and the European Union and other countries are slowly easing their lockdown restrictions as doctors, epidemiologists, paramedics, and other essential workers scramble to get it under control.

As a member of the immune-compromised I have been extremely careful. I haven’t been to a store, restaurant, or bar in months, and I don’t let anyone in my home unless they wash their hands, remove their shoes, and keep two meters apart during their visit. When I go out, it’s always straight to a car and to a private home where I am extra careful to minimize physical contact and wash my hands regularly. When I’m in any public space, however briefly, I always wear a mask.

That said, while it is highly unlikely that I have COVID-19, it’s not impossible. I am having flu-like symptoms that started with a mild sore throat and a little chest congestion.

After mulling it over, I decided to bite the bullet and get myself tested yesterday. If you’re having any cold or flu-like symptoms, have been to a bar recently, or come in contact with anyone who tested positive for COVID-19, you should get tested too.

Not sure how? I’m here to help.

This article is about how to get tested for COVID-19 in Quebec and what to expect. I hope you’ll be encouraged to at the very least get assessed to see if being tested is necessary. We’re all in this together, so let’s keep each other safe and informed.

First step is to call one of the Quebec government’s COVID-19 information lines, depending on your region. Not sure if you should get tested? Tell the phone operator and they will transfer you to a nurse who will assess you.

If she thinks you need to get tested for COVID-19, she will ask you for your postal code, find the nearest test center, and book you an appointment that best fits your schedule. You will also need to provide your phone number, Medicare number, and email address.

You should get an appointment confirmation by email almost immediately. You can also expect to get multiple reminders by text message in the day or two before the appointment. They will give you the option of cancelling your appointment online.

While it’s not my place to tell anyone what to do, I will say that it is better to know one way or the other than to not know if you have COVID-19, so keep that appointment.

Bring a mask with you and be prepared to wait in line outside the test centre. The one closest to me was at 5800 Cote des Neiges in Montreal, in a sort of construction trailer in the parking lot of the Jewish General Hospital. Every once in a while someone in full mask and protection gear will come out and ask if anyone has an appointment. If you do, they will call you in.

Once inside, you are immediately required to put on a fresh mask and sanitize your hands. Then you are sent to a waiting area with chairs divided by walls to ensure social distancing.

You’ll feel a bit like a sideshow display, but it’s comfortable. The ambiance of the test centre feels like the pop up lab the government set up in the movie ET and you will be required to sanitize your hands nearly every step of the way.

After a few minutes, the worker who called you in will sanitize the phone allowing you to speak to the administrator who is protected by a wall with a window, not unlike the setup in some prisons. You are required to press your Medicare card to the window for the admin worker who will register you, which includes confirming your email address and emergency contacts. They will ask if you’re ok getting a negative result by email as well.

You are then sent back to the waiting area. I cannot vouch for wait times, as I know they vary, but I was called in less than thirty minutes.

A nurse in full protective gear will then bring you to a room near the exit. Another nurse similarly dressed will be seated at a computer and will ask you questions about travel, who you have been in contact with, and what your symptoms are. They will then give you a sheet with a number you can call if you don’t get your results in two to five days and your file number.

If the results are negative you will get an email. If they’re positive, expect a phone call.

Then the dreaded moment comes: the nurse asks you to lower your mask below your nose, holds out a giant flexible swab, and tells you to tilt your head back.

You know that expression “Mind if I pick your brain”? That’s exactly what the test itself feels like. You think that swab can’t possibly go further up your nose, that there simply isn’t room, and yet it does.

However, the test is quick, and the nurses are as gentle with administering such an uncomfortable test as can be. Just when you think you can’t take it anymore, the swab is out and you’re free to go with your information sheet and instructions to self-isolate for five days.

You are warned that the phone call when and if it comes will say “Private Number” in your caller ID and won’t leave a message. A healthcare worker will then instruct you to sanitize your hands immediately before you go out the exit. You are then free to go home to self-isolation.

That said, if you are having any symptoms resembling a cold, flu, or sinus infection and/or have been anywhere or in contact with anyone that puts you at risk of catching COVID-19, get yourself tested. The comfort of knowing one way or the other far outweighs the speedy discomfort of the test itself.

We’re all in this together. Stay safe, stay sane, wear a mask, and wash your hands.

Featured image by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Effective immediately, Quebec bars must stop selling alcohol at midnight and all patrons must leave by 1am instead of staying open to the normal 3am. They must also limit capacity to 50% of what is indicated on their liquor permit.

Quebec Minister of Health and Social Services Christian Dubé made the announcement today alongside National Public Health Director Horacio Arruda. He pointed to the 130 new COVID-19 cases, an increase, as well as an outbreak that happened at a bar in Brossard on the South Shore of Montreal as reasoning.

The government is also asking bar owners to take down the names and phone numbers of customers who visit so Public Health can call them if someone who tested positive was in the same bar they were at the same time. This is a voluntary registry, and a seemingly ad-hoc one at that for the moment, but Dubé isn’t ruling out making an official version.

Police will be stationed in high traffic areas to make sure bars are following the new rules. Dubé said it will be easier than going into each establishment to ensure social distancing.

Both Dubé and Arruda said that this approach also serves as a reminder that despite the nice weather and deconfinement, the pandemic is not over.