Quebec City mayor worried, urges respect ahead of planned COVID-19 protest

Quebec City's mayor says he is concerned about a COVID-19 protest expected to roll into the region this week, which is threatening to disrupt the world's largest winter festival.

Demonstrations threaten to derail the Quebec Winter Carnival this weekend

Quebec City Mayor Bruno Marchand says it's normal for people to want to protest, but he is calling on demonstrators to be respectful of citizens as well as business owners, who are 'barely keeping their heads above water.' (Sylvain Roy Roussel/CBC )

Quebec City's mayor says he is concerned about a COVID-19 protest expected to roll into the region this week and perhaps to disrupt the world's largest winter festival.

After a raucous demonstration in Ottawa over the weekend against Canada's COVID-19 measures, some Quebecers are supporting the cause by planning to head to the provincial capital starting Thursday to protest in front of the National Assembly.

"It worries me a lot," said Bruno Marchand at a news conference Tuesday.

He says it's normal for people to want to protest but he is calling on demonstrators to be respectful of citizens as well as business owners, who are "barely keeping their heads above water." 

"We have to be respectful of others, especially in these difficult times," said Marchand, also pointing to possible disruptions to the Quebec Winter Carnival as residents try to "rediscover hope" these days. 

Organizers of the carnival — opening Friday, Feb. 4 — fear the demonstration will derail some of the programming.

Organizers of the Quebec Winter Carnival, which opens this Friday, say they will do their best to keep the public informed about any changes to schedules or events. (Carl Boivin/Radio-Canada)

"It would obviously be deplorable if the carnival, which is unfolding in an already very difficult context and which is trying to offer an alternative to the prevailing gloom, were to become a collateral victim of the demonstrations," said Mélanie Raymond, executive director of the carnival. 

Organizers say they will try to keep the public informed should the expected demonstrations affect any of the carnival's programming, scheduling or access to sites. 

Political leaders blame premier's 'divisive' measures

In the last few days, several events have popped up on social media asking Quebecers to demonstrate in front of the National Assembly and demand an end to vaccine mandates and public health restrictions — in line with the calls in Ottawa. As of Tuesday, a few thousand people had indicated online that they would be attending the events.

As with the Ottawa demonstration, some Quebecers are planning to leave from several locations across the province starting Thursday and make their way to the provincial legislature. Many, if not most, of the demonstrators are expected to arrive early Saturday afternoon, according to social media. 

Several politicians reiterated the right of the population to assert their opinions when asked about the planned demonstrations, but Quebec Liberal Leader Dominique Anglade also expressed some concerns on Tuesday.

"When I see what is happening, what has happened in Ottawa, when I have seen flags of extremists, of fascist parties … of vandalism, of comments that incite hatred, obviously, we can only condemn everything associated with it," she said.

Québec Solidaire house leader Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois said the imposition of the health tax for the unvaccinated — an idea now scrapped —  caused a lot of division within the Quebec population and contributed to the discontent by adding fuel to the fire.

'I trust Quebecers,' Legault says

At a Tuesday news conference, Premier François Legault dropped the plan to tax the unvaccinated, saying he feared the "disruption of social peace" in the province. 

Legault denied backing down due to demands by organizers of the planned protest, saying he had already begun to have discussions "last week" about scrapping the tax. 

As for the possible protests in Quebec City, Legault says he hopes demonstrators keep the peace. 

"I trust Quebecers. I think it's important to keep this right to protest, but it's important to do it respectfully ... and not with hateful symbols."

When asked if he would meet with protesters, Legault answered that he's always open to meeting people "who are acting in good faith." 

Both the Quebec City police service (SPVQ) and the Sûreté du Québec (SQ) say they are aware of the plans. The SPVQ says no official request from the organizer or organizers of the protests has yet been received.

"If the [organizers put in a request], there will be planning in this sense to ensure the safety of demonstrators and road users. So we're looking at that," said SPVQ spokesperson Sandra Dion.

With files from Radio-Canada