Unredacted document shows Montreal Public Health urged Quebec not to impose 2nd curfew
Document outlined problems, recommended other measures instead
Quebec's Health Ministry published an unredacted email exchange Thursday which shows the former public health director recommended the reinstatement of the provincewide curfew despite Montreal Public Health advising against the measure.
In an email timestamped 10:31 a.m. on Dec. 30, hours before the last curfew was announced, Dr. Horacio Arruda's assistant solicited help from the province's public health institute (INSPQ) to help justify a rule that would only be in place for two weeks — ending soon after Arruda resigned.
In the email, Renée Levaque copy and pasted a lengthy document compiled by Montreal Public Health, dated Dec. 21 and outlining how the measure does more harm than good.
That document — an ethical opinion — outlines the many ways in which the curfew has proven detrimental, particularly to vulnerable populations such as those living with the risk of family violence, people of colour and immigrants.
The document says those with mental illness, the unhoused and people who use drugs are also put more at risk by curfews.
Radio-Canada first obtained a completely redacted version (all of the text covered in black bars) of the document from the Health Ministry in response to a request under the Act respecting Access to documents held by public bodies.
'Lack of robust data'
The document states there is a "lack of robust data on the specific effectiveness of curfews."
The document says the curfew has even proven counterproductive in some cases as people gather indoors after hours to avoid getting a ticket. People may end up spending the night away from home rather than risk travelling, increasing the risk of transmission, the document says.
Among other things, the document cites the death of a homeless man who was outside past curfew. Just days after his death, a Quebec Superior Court judge ruled that the order should not apply to people experiencing homelessness.
A curfew also reduces access to places where people can safely consume substances under supervision. It also accentuates social tensions and negative interactions between law enforcement and the public, the document says.
The document also notes the population is suffering from pandemic fatigue which elevates the importance of transparent and evidence-based decision-making to get the public onside.
With the absence of data proving a curfew effective and the demonstration of collateral impacts, Montreal Public Health recommended that alternative measures be introduced instead.
The document says it would be better to "communicate clear instructions, to promote the isolation of cases and their contacts, maintain limited social bubbles, reduce gathering limits indoors, use masks appropriately, ensure adequate ventilation of closed spaces where several people at risk of infection meet, promote the correct use of self-tests and facilitating telework."
Montreal's director of public health, Dr. Mylène Drouin, expressed her opposition to the curfew, according to emails obtained by Radio-Canada in January.
Boileau says curfew was predecessor's call
Hammered with questions during a news conference Thursday, Dr. Luc Boileau, Quebec's interim public health director, distanced himself from the controversy, saying it was his predecessor's decision.
Boileau was head of the Institut national d'excellence en santé et en services sociaux (INESSS) at the time — a government health-care research institute. In that role, he said the INESSS informed the Quebec government of the strain on the hospitals.
"There was a very high level of risk," he said. "I was arguing that the situation was clearly a very dangerous one for the health system."
He said his predecessor likely made the recommendation based on the data at hand at the time.
Quebec Public Health takes into account several factors in its decision-making and when issuing recommendations for the province, the Health Ministry said in a statement.
Those factors include the population's vulnerability, the labour situation, health-care capacity, the epidemiological situation, transmission rates and the rate of vaccination.
In January, Radio-Canada questioned the Health Ministry under the access to information law about how it had evaluated the restrictive measure to determine it was effective in slowing the spread of the virus.
On Feb. 7, the ministry responded that its mission "is not to do scientific research or to improve a legal argument."
"The decisions adopted are based on evidence gathered by various organizations, including the INSPQ and the opinion of experts from other organizations."
Les <a href="https://t.co/OJ7Z9VIiJN">https://t.co/OJ7Z9VIiJN</a> comprennent maintenant pourquoi l’entièreté de l’avis était caviardé.<br>L’avis éthique était DÉFAVORABLE.<br>On s’est moqué de nous. Une fois de + une fois de trop.<br>Il faudra bien un jour faire toute la lumière sur la gestion de la pandémie.<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/polqc?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#polqc</a> <a href="https://t.co/4QyzRJ93hc">https://t.co/4QyzRJ93hc</a>—@joel_arseneau
However, in response to another request, the INSPQ stated that it had "no documents" proving the efficacy of the curfew.
Moreover, in a news release issued Dec. 30 by the Health Ministry, it claimed the justification to impose the curfew was based in part on an "ethical analysis."
"Clearly, we did not read the same memo," wrote Liberal leader Dominique Anglade in a tweet Thursday evening.
Parti Québécois health critic Joël Arseneau tweeted that the government had mocked Quebecers. He re-iterated calls for a public inquiry into the handling of the pandemic.
In January, Quebec's three main opposition parties all criticized the provincial government's decision to impose the curfew, arguing the health order was a sign of the government's failure to prepare.