It is just over a half century ago that Quebecers last had to endure curfews. That was during the October Crisis that saw the FLQ kidnap British Trade Commissioner James Cross and kill Quebec Labour Minister Pierre Laporte. That bloody October unfolded against a background of mailbox bombs and the deaths and dismemberments of police officers. It was a time of perceived insurrection. The Federal government sent in 10,000 troops into Quebec and under the powers of the War Measures Act (now called the Emergency Powers Act) curfews were instituted. It was only the third time in our history. The other two were during the First and Second World Wars.
It is not unreasonable then for citizens concerned with the state of our parliamentary democracy to raise a caution on the use of curfews and question whether our current pandemic rises to the standard for their imposition. This is particularly pressing in light of the constantly conflicting medical information that the public regularly receives from Quebec authorities.
Just two weeks ago the CBC reported that Quebec’s Public Health Director Dr. Horacio Arruda admitted that there exists, “...no hard scientific evidence to support a curfews’s effectiveness.” Yet last Saturday a 30 day curfew was imposed. On Sept.25th, Dr. Arruda stated at another press conference that, “...there was no need to close restaurants and movie theatres because they were respecting guidelines and there were hardly any cases coming out of them.” Four days later Quebec shut down restaurants and theatres.
The Quebec government’s own publicly available data based on contact tracing and tracking demonstrates that 48% of recent positive cases have occurred in workplaces, 33% in old age homes and 10% in schools. Yet the government has defended the curfews because of its claim that most new positive tests occur from people visiting each other in their homes or young people partying in their homes. Which facts is Quebec working with and what can we really believe?
Curfews are one of the most serious abridgements of the protections afforded by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. They breach several Charter provisions. Section 2 protects the freedom to assemble and associate. Section 7 protects the right not to be deprived of liberty “except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.” Section 15 guarantees equality under the law.
It is true that Charter rights are not absolute. They are subject to “reasonable limits” that the state must justify in court. A government must prove that the breach “achieves a pressing and substantial objective.” Given the constantly contradictory information from Quebec, can anyone imagine a Judge deciding there is any evidence that curfews “achieve” any objective with any reasonable certainty?
This was a non-evidence based arbitrary decision by the Legault government and for the protection of our civil liberties and respect for the truth should be abandoned immediately.