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More Policing Won’t Stop the Virus

The curfew harms rather than protects

From January 9 through May 28 of last year, Quebec residents were forbidden from leaving their property from the hours of 8 p.m. to 5 a.m.. As of December 31, 2021, the province has been placed under curfew again, this time from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.. While the curfew is being presented as an “extreme measure” to address an “extreme situation,” it is in reality an ineffective policy that only serves to grant more power to the police, while criminalizing those who need to be outside past 10 p.m.. For racialized people, sex workers, unhoused people, survivors of domestic violence, and drug users, the negative effects of imposing curfew leave them overpoliced and neglected.

During the curfew, police presence and powers are greatly expanded – police are allowed to stop anyone who is seen outside during these hours, and fines for breaking curfew range from $1,000 to $6,000. “The burden of these police stops is likely to fall disproportionately on racialized individuals and other marginalized groups,” says Cara Zwibel, a director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, in an interview with Global News. Other criticisms include the curfew’s failure to prevent the spread of COVID-19 – a group of Montreal-based professors penned an open letter outlining evidence which suggests that the 2021 curfew had no significant impact on the number of COVID-19 cases in Quebec.

Last year’s curfew saw an increase in overdoses and domestic violence, while increased police powers permitted more arrests. Restricting residents’ ability to leave their household at night means that many drug users cannot access safe-injection sites, leading them to inject drugs alone, with nobody to administer naloxone. Although travelling to a safe-injection site is technically a medical exception, the curfew still poses barriers to accessing harm-reduction services: users must present a letter from local health authorities justifying their exemption from curfew, and because this letter would mention drug use, the police may search drug users for possession of a controlled substance. Likewise, sex workers and unhoused people are often outside past 10 p.m. by necessity – as such, these groups will inevitably be confronted by the police. Curfew also makes it difficult for those experiencing domestic violence to seek help; the potential to be stopped and fined by the police is a significant deterrent to leaving one’s house at night, when it’s easiest to escape unnoticed. Furthermore, the SPVM has been found to be four to five times more likely to stop Black and Indigenous people than white people – the unconditional authority to stop anyone outside after 10 p.m. will only perpetuate these racist practices. Empowering the police, rather than investing in effective public health measures, will only harm communities made vulnerable by discriminatory policies.

Whether a curfew has any benefits is unclear at best. Cases in Quebec did not decline any faster than cases in other provinces during the 2021 curfew: its effect on the virus’ transmission remains questionable. At worst, curfew may even be counterproductive: as the authors of the aforementioned open letter put it, “an authoritarian attitude […] may erode [the public’s] adherence to effective health measures.”

According to a study conducted by l’Institut National de Santé Publique du Québec (INSPQ), the number of social contacts Quebec residents had each day remained the same after the January 2021 curfew was imposed. The vast majority of transmissions occur during the workday, with about 93 per cent of fifth-wave outbreaks having taken place in schools, nurseries, and workplaces: the curfew will do nothing to prevent such outbreaks. Policies like the curfew falsely communicate that individuals are responsible for flattening the curve, rather than acknowledge failures of capitalist institutions – namely, the pressure from the government and corporations to return to work and “normalcy” – that have contributed to the exploding fifth wave.

Rather than improving ventilation in public buildings, distributing rapid tests and N95 masks, or making the new booster shot more widely available, the Legault administration is opting to adopt a repressive policy that criminalizes Quebec residents just for being outside. This is not effective action against the fifth wave; the curfew merely masks the government’s inaction in the face of rising cases.

With Quebec’s next general election taking place in October, voting the Coalition Avenir du Québec out of power could prevent the implementation of similar discriminatory policies in the future.. Support those most impacted by curfew measures through local harm-reduction organizations such as Cactus Montreal and l’Association Québécoise pour la promotion de la santé des personnes utilisatrices des drogues. If you are able, donate to mutual aid groups such as Hoodstock and Head & Hands.