Protesters pack Quebec City streets for noisy demonstration against pandemic measures
Police say majority of protesters peaceful despite 4th arrest Saturday evening
For the second time in two weeks, the streets surrounding Quebec City's National Assembly are filled with protesters calling for the immediate end of all pandemic measures in the province.
Protesters, including some arriving in convoys from regions such as the Beauce and Saguenay, began gathering in great numbers near the provincial legislature this morning around 11 a.m., blaring their horns and carrying signs criticizing politicians and calling on the government to end pandemic measures.
As of Saturday evening, the area in front of a makeshift stage erected near the protest site was still jammed with protesters. Many cheered and chanted "liberté" (freedom), while others blew into vuvuzela horns as music blasted from the speakers. The biggest crowd of protesters packed onto René-Lévesque Boulvard, a large avenue just beside the National Assembly.
Some protesters handed out plush toys to kids and mascots were also spotted on site to entertain them.
Despite announcements from the Quebec government that it plans to phase out the vaccination passport and to lift most pandemic measures by mid-March, protesters say the government needs to go further in eliminating restrictions.
"We are here to decry all the suffering that the Quebec people have experienced," said an organizer, Kevin Grenier, addressing the crowd from the stage. Two other organizers also took to the stage demanding elected officials end all COVID-19 measures.
Beauce resident Jérémie Sarrazin arrived in Quebec City after taking part in the Ottawa protests for the past three weekends. He says he's here because he's tired of the continuation of public health measures.
"Kids in school with masks and everything like that, we're no longer able to stand it," he said, also calling for the immediate end to vaccination mandates.
"This needs to stop right now. People need to wake up and normal life needs to resume," Sarrazin said.
Alexandre Dufour showed up to the demonstration with his snare drum to encourage protesters and support truckers who are against vaccine mandates.
"It's about freedom of choice and unity between the people you know, not division," he said.
Protester Antoine Goyette also supports that idea, saying he's not against vaccines or pandemic measures, "but we need to be able to have the choice."
Organizers are also calling for the end of the public health emergency, first declared at the outset of the first wave of the pandemic in March 2020.
Quebec City police (SPVQ) made three arrests just before noon Saturday. Later in the evening they confirmed a fourth had been arrested. Two were arrested under the criminal code, with other two under a municipal infraction.
Police did not release other details about the arrests, the first three of which they say happened "at the periphery" of the protest.
"The majority of protesters are respecting and honouring their agreement to demonstrate peacefully," police wrote around noon.
The SPVQ says it's still in communication with organizers, in particular to ensure compliance with the law concerning excessive noise.
Ambiance festive devant l’Assemblée. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/rcqc?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#rcqc</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/manifencours?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#manifencours</a> <a href="https://t.co/4BFB6zuo8r">pic.twitter.com/4BFB6zuo8r</a>—@ColinCtPaulette
More police powers
City trucks are once again being used to block access to certain streets around the National Assembly.
The portion of Honoré-Mercier Boulevard between Grande Allée and René-Lévesque boulevards has been closed to prevent drivers from gaining access to the area in front of the assembly.
Grande Allée is also pedestrian only between de Claire-Fontaine Street and Honoré-Mercier Boulevard.
<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/MANIFESTATION?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#MANIFESTATION</a>| En prévision de l'arrivée des manifestants ce soir, voici les rues qui seront exclusivement piétonnes: Grande-Allée à partir du Concorde jusqu'aux Portes St-Louis ET Honoré-Mercier, entre Grande-Allée et René-Lévesque. Prévoir vos déplacements <a href="https://t.co/70K9od7ePX">pic.twitter.com/70K9od7ePX</a>—@SPVQ_police
A parking zone for trucks has been established on René-Lévesque between Honoré-Mercier and Claire-Fontaine, as agreed with organizers, Quebec City police (SPVQ) said in a tweet.
"Any other parking elsewhere will not be tolerated and will result in a police intervention," police said.
Quebec City Mayor Bruno Marchand says the SPVQ has "prepared for all possibilities" and he's confident the demonstration will go smoothly.
"We are preparing for the worst, but we hope for the best," Marchand told Radio-Canada Saturday morning.
"We have all the tools to make sure that it will be a proper and compliant demonstration."
In the lead up to this weekend's protest, Marchand moved to grant police more powers to "act instead of reacting."
The city's executive committee passed two new municipal regulations: one which gives police the power to control traffic, parking and street closures in the city and the other which reinstates a ban on outdoor cooking and consuming alcohol in parks and in public spaces.
"As we do with every protest, we will have a certain level of tolerance, as long as the orderly conduct of the protest is not compromised," said André Turcotte, assistant director with the SPVQ.
Numerous officers in yellow vests are patrolling the area around the National Assembly.
During the weekend of protests two weeks ago, the SPVQ also made three arrests and towed one vehicle. They also handed out 48 parking tickets, 50 tickets for municipal bylaw infractions and 72 for violations of road safety laws.
Quebec City police say they will respect the right of demonstrators to protest public health measures, but say "no vandalism or criminal infractions will be tolerated."
The protest comes after police in Ottawa moved in yesterday to arrest protesters who have been taking part in a three-week long occupation of the downtown core. Today, police manged to clear the area in front of Parliament Hill as total arrests reached 170.
With files from Radio-Canada and Émilie Warren