As of Sunday (April 11), Montreal and Laval will join other Quebec Red Zones with a curfew once again running from 8pm to 5am. The government had moved the start time of the curfew to 9:30pm on March 17th.

Quebec Premier François Legault made the announcement late this afternoon in a press conference joined by Christian Dubé, Minister of Health and Social Services, and National Public Health Director Dr. Horacio Arruda. The Premier said that this is a preventative measure.

While transmission is still high in the Greater Montreal Region, cases haven’t spiked here to the extent that the government thought they would and to the extent that they have in other Red Zones such as Quebec City, Lévis and Gatineau, which are currently on lockdown. Unlike those parts of Quebec, schools in Montreal will remain open, although not on a full-time basis.

The government closed gyms in Montreal and Laval and announced it at this past Tuesday’s press conference.

Also announced on Tuesday: People taking part in outdoor group activities with people from different households such as walking or sports must do so masked. Of course, if you sit down outside, two meters apart, you can remove the masks.

Legault didn’t give a date for when these new restrictions would be eased.

As of tomorrow, the Quebec City, Lévis, Gatineau regions will go back on pause for ten days. This means non-essential businesses will close, including gyms, movie theatres and hair salons, just as they were in January. Also in those areas, schools will close, religious services will be limited to a maximum of 25 people and the curfew will run from 8pm to 5am once again, instead of starting at 9:30pm.

The Montreal and Laval regions aren’t affected at this time and will remain at the current level of restrictions for now. This is the first time since the start of the pandemic that restrictions have been stricter in other regions than they are in Montreal.

Quebec Premier François Legault made the announcement late this afternoon in a press conference joined by Christian Dubé, Minister of Health and Social Services, and National Public Health Director Dr. Horacio Arruda. The Premier attributed the measures to a spike in COVID-19 cases in the affected regions that didn’t materialize to the same extent in Montreal or Laval, something he admitted they were surprised to see.

The Greater Quebec City area, as well as the Outaouais, Chaudière-Appalaches and Bas Saint-Laurent regions will also be reclassified as Red Zones from Orange Zones, meaning indoor dining and other activities will end. Home visits remain barred across the province.

When I walk into my local major chain grocery store, one of the first fridges I see is filled with bright, fun cans, chock full of sugar and alcohol. One in particular looks just like those red, white, and blue rocket popsicles, and hits me in the nostalgia.

They share the fridge with rows of stylized kombuchas, beckoning to shoppers in an all ages space to take their pick. You can also buy cigs there of course, tucked out of sight these days, but like an old timey speak easy, say the right words and show the right ID, and they open the secret doors. This feels normal now, though I’m old enough to remember when smokes were not only proudly displayed at pharmacy check-outs, but also sponsored just about all our noteworthy festivals.

We embrace vice in Montreal. We embrace it because we believe in joie de vivre and personal freedoms. We love the caché that sexy trinity gives us, and in normal times, we love the tourist dollars that come with it. From our drinking age, to our legal contact dances, Montreal is a haven for adult entertainment in the broadest sense of the term.

Typical Quebec grocery store fridge with fruity alcohol (Photo by Dawn McSweeney)

That’s why it seems so weird that e-cigarettes are slated to come under stricter regulations. Quebec is moving to limit nicotine content in cartridges and liquids to 20%, while also banning flavors. This means that adults will only be able to choose between flavorless, menthol, or tobacco flavored, to pair with their hard root beer.

Before the pandemic, the news was briefly filled with teenagers getting sick from what turned out to be black market THC and CBD vapes made with vitamin E, and who knows what else. While broken telephone caused panic about adults smoking regulated nicotine products, it also seems to have contributed to Quebec’s decision to ban THC and CBD vape products moving forward while other provinces allow them.

During the lockdown, vape shops were considered non-essential. They are the exclusive retailers of e-liquid, refillable vape pens, empty pods, and various bits so you can keep your vape up and running. They often have custom flavors and products that set them apart from each other, creating niche markets.

While plenty of small businesses in the same boat were able to mitigate some of their losses by moving to online platforms or curb-side pickups, vape shops weren’t allowed to do either. In fact, under Quebec law, vape shops can’t sell their wares online, leaving small shops out in the cold, and vapers to find their own alternatives, likely driving money to other provinces or countries.

One small loophole remained: deps continued to sell a limited selection of popular, self contained pod products, and the e-cigarettes associated with them. They had Juul products, and Vuse (previously Vype). Both are relatively pricier options per milliliter, but I dusted off my Juul, and used it until I got sick of it, bought a Vuse, and then paid more than I used to for cigarettes until restrictions eased.

I wondered why these were available. Big box stores had sections closed off in an attempt to even the field, and while I was grateful to be vaping, I couldn’t help but wonder why there seemed to be some favoritism in play on vapes.

A quick search, and I found that the Altria Group (formerly Philip Morris) owns a 35% share of Juul. They already make multiple tobacco flavors including Virginia, Golden, and Classic. Even more fun, our former Health Minister Rona Ambrose joined the Juul board of directors in spring of 2020.

This gave me giggles because in 2014, in her position as Health Minister, she was quite concerned about vapes, flavors, et al, and called for further research. At the time, she said:

“Currently, without scientific evidence demonstrating safety or effectiveness, we continue to urge Canadians against the use of these e-cigarettes. We have heard that e-cigarettes may be a gateway for teens to begin smoking, while also having the potential to serve as a smoking cessation tool. Today, I am asking the Standing Committee on Health to undertake a thorough study on e-cigarettes and provide a report.”

– Rona Ambrose, while Canadian Minister of Health in 2014

So, as I see it, either the research came back clean, or she’s a high paid hypocrite shilling for big tobacco. I’ll wait.

What about Vuse? Oh, they’re owned by British American Tobacco, one of the biggest cigarette players in the world, now making sure they keep their profits up by having a foot in each world.

Maybe I’m paranoid. Maybe self contained pods are just easier to stock. Well, my preferred one and done self contained e-cig is STLTH. They’re founded by a group of ex-smokers with over twenty years of cumulative experience in vape space, and no apparent ties to big tobacco. Their products are exclusively available in dedicated vape shops. Weird, right?

All this is in the name of “think of the children”. Well, I was one once, and I had no trouble getting my hands on cigarettes at 13. Locked in a decades long toxic on-off relationship with butts, I was down to a pack a week, feeling that was a negligible, “harmless” amount to smoke.

I made the switch to vape 2 years ago, and I breathe better. I no longer have that gross morning cough, and my vocal range has returned in a way I never thought it could. My house smells better. Hell, my hair smells better.

I enter an 18+ space, and make my adult decisions, aware that this is harm reduction, not perfection, and that no toxins are better than any toxins. It’s much the same way I think about alcohol.

If eliminating flavors stopped experimental and rebellious kids from doing stuff, alcoholic soda would be banned, and I wouldn’t have ever picked up a regular ol’smoke. If all we do is worry about the children, and 18+ spaces aren’t a good enough way to keep kids out and “safe”, then let’s board up every SAQ and SQDC.

Because as it stands, taking away my flavors looks like it won’t keep vape out of kids’ mouths, but it sure sounds like it will be taking money from small businesses, and giving it right back to big tobacco, one way or another.

Featured Image by Dawn McSweeney

Quebec’s COVID-19 vaccination program is in full swing, but today it hit what could end up being a setback. Quebec Minister of Health and Social Services Christian Dubé announced today that the province is temporarily halting its administration of the AstraZeneca vaccine known as Covishield to people under 55 years old.

This decision follows a small number of cases in Europe where the vaccine was linked to blood clotting in women under 55. While no such cases have been reported in Canada, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization recommended the temporary suspension so more studies can be done.

Quebec and Manitoba have adopted this policy, with potentially more provinces to follow suit. PEI is stopping use of the vaccine for people aged 18-29.

Currently, Quebec is only vaccinating members of the general public over 60 years of age. The government won’t say how many of the 111 000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine it has already administered went to people younger than 55 (healthcare workers, etc.).

While admitting that some appointments may have to be cancelled, Dubé said that Quebec is still on track to have everyone who wants a vaccine be able to get one by June 24th. In addition to AstraZeneca, Quebec is also administering doses of the Modern and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines.

Jason C. McLean and Special Guest Dawn McSweeney go through some of the big Quebec and Montreal news stories:

Quebec and Canada’s ban on flavoured vapes are coming into effect. What will this mean for local business?

Quebec high schools students are back, religious services can have up to 200 people, but there is still a curfew and a ban on home visits. Does this make any sense?

There was a protest against Shiller Lavy’s practices in Mile End that was also a book sale. Dawn was there.

& More!

Dawn Mc Sweeney is an author and FTB contributor, follow her on Twitter @mcmoxy

Jason C. McLean is the Editor-in-Chief of ForgetTheBox.net, follow him on Twitter @jasoncmclean

While all of Quebec remains under curfew, as of tomorrow, it will run from 9:30pm until 5am across the province, even in Red Zones such as Montreal. For over two months, it started at 8pm but people living in Orange Zones got the 90 minute delay as of last Monday.

Quebec Premier François Legault made the announcement late this afternoon in a press conference joined by Christian Dubé, Minister of Health and Social Services and National Public Health Director Dr. Horacio Arruda. The Premier said that while there was an increase in COVID-19 cases following March Break, it was “nothing dramatic” and therefore the change in curfew time was possible.

Legault also stressed that indoor gatherings are still forbidden. Theatres and show venues, though, can re-open as of March 26th.

The Premier also said that he expects everyone over 65 will be vaccinated against the virus by mid-April. He also believes everyone who wants a vaccine, regardless of age, will be able to get it by June 24th.

With variants on the virus still out there, Legault warned that “we have to stay very careful for a few more weeks.”

Jason C. McLean speaks with comedian Preach, the host of this year’s Gala Dynastie, a celebration of Black excellence from across Quebec. They talk about comedy during COVID, this Saturday’s online edition and this year’s theme: The Rise of the Engaged.

The 5th Edition of Gala Dynastie streams live this Satruday, March 6th, at 6pm. For tickets and for more info: GalaDynastie.com

Follow Aba & Preach on YouTube and Facebook

Follow Jason C. McLean on Twitter @jasoncmclean

Quebecers outside of the Greater Montreal Region will see some COVID-19 restrictions loosen when they pass into an Orange Zone after March Break (so Monday, March 8th). Montrealers and people living in Laval, Montérégie, the Laurentians and the Lanaudière region still have to wait at least a month before they leave the Red Zone.

Quebec Premier François Legault made the announcement about the new Orange Zones in a press conference late this afternoon joined by Christian Dubé, Minister of Health and Social Services and National Public Health Director Dr. Horacio Arruda. He didn’t initially give a timeline for when Montreal would leave the Red Zone.

When asked by reporters, though, Legault said that while COVID numbers haven’t been increasing, new strains of the virus are now present in Montreal, which might make cases and hospitalizations rise again in the region. He feels that successfully vaccinating the most vulnerable, which is supposed to take a few weeks, will create a climate where restrictions can be loosened in the Greater Montreal Region as well.

In Orange Zones, gyms and show venues can re-open, restaurants can once again welcome dine-in customers and houses of worship can have a maximum of 25 people for services. Home visits, except for when someone lives alone, are still banned.

Legault says the government will be adding sports options in Red Zones and that he is looking into possibly re-opening show venues and increasing capacity at places of worship there as well.

The curfew will remain in effect across Quebec, but only begin at 9:30pm in Orange Zones while still running from 8pm to 5am in Red Zones.

Jason C. McLean and Special Guest Dawn McSweeney go through the week’s big news stories:

Quebec Premier François Legault injects himself into the campus “free speech” debate and considers restricting English school enrollment.

What Montreal events and festivals will go online in 2021 and which will happen in person?

Ted Cruz leaves Texas freezing.

Justin Trudeau’s new gun control measures.

Dawn Mc Sweeney is an author and FTB contributor, follow her on Twitter @mcmoxy

Jason C. McLean is the Editor-in-Chief of ForgetTheBox.net, follow him on Twitter @jasoncmclean

Quebec’s COVID-19 infection numbers are dropping, but according to Premier François Legault, new variants of the virus and Spring Break coming up mean the province will only be rolling back restrictions slightly.

In a late afternoon press conference, the Premier, joined by Christian Dubé, Minister of Health and Social Services and National Public Health Director Dr. Horacio Arruda, announced that movie theatres, arenas and indoor pools, even those in Red Zones like Montreal, can re-open on Friday, February 26th. Other types of performance venues will remain closed.

Also, up to eight people will be allowed to do outdoor activities together. Only the Outaouais Region will move from a Red Zone to an Orange Zone.

Renting a chalet or hotel in another region will be permitted. Police, though, will be on the lookout for signs that people are staying there with people outside their bubble.

The 8pm to 5am curfew, though, will remain in effect at least until March 8, as will the ban on private home visits. Legault says they will see how Spring Break goes and then make a determination on lifting it.

Jason C. McLean and Dawn McSweeney discuss the federal, provincial and municipal governments’ responses to the COVID pandemic. They cover the curfew, museums re-opening, summer street terrasses, outsourcing benefit service and more.

Dawn McSweeney is an author and occasional FTB contributor. Follow her on Twitter @mcmoxy

Jason C. McLean is the Editor-in-Chief of forgetthebox.net Follow him on Twitter @jasoncmclean

Non-essential businesses with storefronts will be allowed to re-open across Quebec on February 8th. Meanwhile, the province-wide curfew will remain in effect until at least February 22nd.

Quebec Premier François Legault made the announcement in a press conference late this afternoon. He was joined by National Public Health Director Doctor Horacio Arruda and Health Minister Christian Dubé.

This re-opening includes places like hairdressers and museums (even those in shopping malls) everywhere, but gyms and restaurant dining rooms will only be able to re-open on the 8th in Orange Zones (Montreal, along with 90% Quebec is in a Red Zone).

Orange Zone movie theatres will re-open, with increased social distancing requirements at the end of the month. Bars remain closed province-wide.

Legault also announced that the curfew in Orange Zones will begin at 9:30pm as of the 8th. It will still run from 8pm to 5am in Red Zones.

Home gatherings remain banned across Quebec.

Homeless people are now exempt from Quebec’s 8pm to 5am curfew thanks to a ruling early this evening from the Quebec Superior Court. Judge Chantal Masse ruled that “the measure as worded would not apply to people experiencing homelessness” given that homeless people don’t have a home to go to at night.

Quebec Premier François Legault has repeatedly rejected calls from opposition leaders, the Mayor of Montreal, and others to give homeless people a curfew exemption. Now, with the ruling, his refusal is moot, at least until February 5th (the ruling exempts the homeless until then).

A group of legal-aid lawyers called the Clinique Juridique Itinérante brought the case on behalf of the homeless. Masse agreed with the plaintiffs, saying that “the measure infringes the right to life, liberty and security of the person protected by the Canadian and Quebec charters for people experiencing homelessness.”

There is no word on whether or not the Legault Government plans to appeal the decision.

Featured image of the Palais de Justice in Montreal by Jeangagnon via Wikimedia Commons

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.