The Quebec government says it will not challenge a temporary court order exempting the province’s homeless population from the nightly curfew implemented to stem the tide of the novel coronavirus.
Lionel Carmant, junior health minister, announced the decision on social media Wednesday morning. He said the government will amend its decree to ensure the health order is not applied to those without a fixed address.
“We have read the decision rendered last night and do not intend to challenge it,” he wrote on Wednesday. “Since the start of the curfew, our desire has been for people experiencing homelessness to be guided to the right resources and not to bring them to justice.”
The curfew, which is in effect until at least Feb. 8, stipulates Quebecers must be home from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every night, with few exceptions. The province implemented it as part of lockdown measures to curb the spread of COVID-19.
The restriction has been hotly contested, however.
Community workers and politicians at all levels of government had called on Premier François Legault to exempt the homeless from the curfew after a man was found dead this month in a portable toilet not far from a Montreal homeless shelter he frequented.
Legault has said police show good judgment when dealing with the homeless. He also argued some people might pretend to be homeless to avoid curfew fines.
In response to a request filed Friday by a legal clinic representing the homeless, Quebec Superior Court Justice Chantal Masse ruled that although the curfew was introduced in the public interest, its current application imperils the lives, safety and health of the homeless.
She also noted that the Crown did not challenge evidence presented to court showing tickets, which carry fines from $1,000 to $6,000, have already been given to homeless people for breaking the curfew.
The court order is welcomed by shelters and those who work closely with vulnerable Montrealers.
David Chapman, project co-ordinator at Resilience Montreal, described it as “one less psychological weight” for the homeless to bear.
“This is a measure that came down with the homeless as a last consideration,” he said, referring to the curfew.
Chapman said those who live on the street can now focus on “their regular stresses” such as finding something to eat or where to sleep instead of potential tickets.
“At least they won’t have to worry about a 1,500 fine that they can’t pay for,” he said.
— with files from Global News’ Annabelle Olivier, Brayden Jagger Haines and The Canadian Press
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