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.

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.

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.

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.

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante announced on social media today that the city is working on a bylaw that will require everyone to wear a mask when in enclosed indoor public spaces as of July 27th. There will be fines for businesses and individuals caught breaking the bylaw after that date.

The Quebec Government made mask wearing mandatory on public transit last week. This latest move by Montreal builds on that and was spurred, according to Plante, by outbreaks of COVID-19 off-island and the current situation in the US.

Plante explained to Le Téléjournal that while the bylaw will apply to bars and restaurants, people will, of course, be able to remove their masks when eating and drinking. The mayor said the city consulted with bar and restaurant owners as well as other merchants before making the announcement.

The bylaw will not apply to private shared spaces like the common areas of apartment buildings or office towers. The Quebec Government is working on regulations or recommendations for those spaces.

While it will take three weeks to work out all the specifics and make sure people are properly notified before the bylaw goes into effect, Plante hopes Montrealers will start acting like it’s already a reality and wear masks when indoors in public. As the mayor told CBC, the bylaw will be re-evaluated on a monthly basis.

UPDATE: The Quebec Government has reversed its decision to only release data weekly and will instead continue to release it on a daily basis.

Yesterday, the Quebec Government announced that it will no longer be publishing daily numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths as it has been since the beginning of the pandemic. They will still be collecting data but only releasing it to the public on a weekly basis.

Today, at a press conference in Montreal, Quebec’s National Public Health Director Dr. Horacio Arruda assured reporters that the data will still be looked at on a daily basis and if there was urgent information that needs to be communicated, it will be. Also, if the numbers start rising, they will go back to daily updates.

Arruda also announced the deconfinement of most of the remaining sectors of the economy. Bars, amusement parks, casinos, spas, water parks and hotels can now re-open while festivals and other large events, overnight camps and combat-related sporting events cannot.

Arruda stressed that these businesses must impose social distancing restrictions, in particular the two-meter rule. He also encouraged wearing masks as much as possible and didn’t rule out reconfinement if COVID numbers spike.

There will undoubtedly be some changes in how some businesses operate. For example, Arruda mentioned that bar patrons will need to remain seated as much as possible and not move around, much like restaurants, so probably no dance floor either.