Old Montreal business owners frustrated by damage done during anti-curfew riot
Cleanup has begun on Notre-Dame Street, littered with broken glass, charred garbage
Business owners in Old Montreal, already struggling under public health restrictions, spent Monday morning patching up their shattered storefronts after being targeted by anti-curfew rioters the night before.
Daniel Loureiro, who owns Helena restaurant on Notre-Dame Street West with his mother, says life was stressful enough without the fear of vandalism. Along with plummeting sales, he is caring for an 11-week-old baby boy.
Loureiro says he broke into tears when he arrived at his restaurant on Sunday night after hearing it had been damaged.
"Protest all you want, but don't do this to small businesses. People are suffering. We're suffering. We put all our money in our businesses," he said Monday morning as he cleaned up debris outside his restaurant.
The riot, which left dozens of businesses in Old Montreal damaged, began at the end of a peaceful demonstration against an earlier curfew.
Several dozen protesters gathered in Jacques-Cartier Square at about 7 p.m., then stayed past 8 p.m., defying the provincial government's stay-at-home order. Police said the crowd size quickly tripled, making it difficult to contain.
As the original crowd began to disperse, small groups set fire to garbage cans and broke storefront windows. Two STM buses were damaged, and a bus shelter was destroyed.
WATCH | Old Montreal streets damaged after hundreds protest city's 8 p.m. curfew
Police made seven arrests and handed out 108 tickets. "An investigation is underway and there could be more arrests," said Cédric Couture, police chief for the area that covers Old Montreal.
Several business owners, including Loureiro, said they think police were underprepared and took too long to intervene.
Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante defended the police response, saying officers were present from the outset of the protest and wanted to avoid further escalating the situation.
"There's always a balance to find, because sometimes when police officers act too fast, it can put oil on the fire," Plante said, adding that police will continue to be present at similar events.
She said it was "ridiculous" and "stupid" that people attacked business owners who are already suffering.
Quebec Public Security Minister Geneviève Guilbault said she found the riot "extremely shocking" and blamed it on a small group of "troublemakers."
Critical moment for Quebec
The demonstration was billed as a chance for younger Montrealers to protest the curfew measures. Before it turned violent, the crowd danced to music from loudspeakers, lit fireworks and chanted "Freedom for the young."
Several of those who took part are active participants in the movement to contest Quebec's public health measures, and they share conspiracy theories on their social media accounts.
One of the groups that helped publicize Sunday night's demonstration issued a statement on Monday seeking to distance itself from the rioters and calling for peaceful protests in the future.
Although Quebec's measures have faced small but steadfast opposition throughout the pandemic, Sunday's riot comes at an especially critical moment for the government.
In an effort to contain the spread of COVID-19 variants, it has introduced sweeping new measures in many parts of the province in recent weeks.
The regions of Quebec City, Chaudière-Appalaches and the Outaouais are under lockdown — with schools operating online only and non-essential businesses closed — as spiking caseloads risk overwhelming regional hospitals.
Montreal and Laval have so far avoided similar increases. Premier François Legault said the earlier curfew in the two cities was necessary to prevent that from happening.
He also made wearing masks outdoors mandatory in certain situations, such as playing sports, but some have raised concerns that his government hasn't done enough to explain the new measure to the public.
"Yes, there are a lot of questions," Plante said. "But asking questions is one thing. Vandalism is another."
with files from Kate McKenna, Kamila Hinkson and Radio-Canada