Quebec curfew does not apply to homeless people, judge says

Homeless people are no longer subject to Quebec's curfew, a Superior Court judge ruled Tuesday.

Legault government has been criticized for not being more lenient on those who live on the streets

The Quebec government has been under pressure to ease curfew restrictions on homeless people. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Homeless people are no longer subject to Quebec's curfew, a Superior Court judge ruled Tuesday. 

Judge Chantal Masse said the plaintiff, a group of legal aid lawyers who were working on behalf of homeless clients, demonstrated that the lives, safety and health of homeless people were put at risk by the curfew.

Because homeless people have no place to go at night, she ruled the "measure as worded would not apply to people experiencing homelessness."

The curfew has a discriminatory and disproportionate effect on people experiencing homelessness, contrary to the right to equality of persons, she said.

"The measure infringes the right to life, liberty and security of the person protected by the Canadian and Quebec charters for people experiencing homelessness," Masse said.

Quebec residents are only allowed outside between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m. for essential travel under the curfew, which is meant to help control the spread of COVID-19, but Masse's safeguard order suspends the curfew for homeless people until Feb. 5.

The order was sought by lawyers representing the Mobile Legal Clinic. The group's mission is to promote access to justice for the homeless and other marginalized people. 

The group argued the curfew is "arbitrary and disproportionate," when it comes to the homeless. Forcing homeless people to be off the streets and inside when they don't have a home was asking them to do the impossible, the group said.

Helena Lamed, a pro-bono lawyer for the Mobile Legal Clinic, says the group is pleased with the decision because "we feel that this will protect the rights and well-being of people who are in a situation of homelessness."

Government to review ruling

Quebec Premier François Legault had been under increasing pressure to ease restrictions for the homeless.

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante was among those who called on Legault to scale back the curfew for those who have no place to go.

She applauded the ruling Tuesday, tweeting that it "will make life easier for people experiencing homelessness and for those working in the field who support them."

Montreal may be covered in snow, but there are still plenty of people sleeping outside. (Rogerio Barbosa/AFP via Getty Images)

Legault has argued there are plenty of places for homeless people to stay in Montreal with the addition of new, makeshift shelters throughout the city.

"There are places set up for them," Legault said when he announced the curfew earlier this month. "Especially with the cold, we would like them to be indoors and there is enough room available."

After Masse's ruling on Tuesday, Lionel Carmant, Quebec's junior health minister, said the government will review the ruling before commenting.

More work to do

Nakuset, executive director of the Native Women's Shelter, was among the first to call on the Quebec government to grant homeless people amnesty from the curfew.

With outbreaks hitting the homeless population in a province struggling to curb transmission, shelters have been forced to either close or take in fewer people in to limit the spread of COVID-19, she said. 

While Legault claimed there were enough shelters, she says there isn't "even close" to enough space.

Now that a judge has suspended the curfew, she said the space issue remains.

"There are not enough spaces in Montreal for the people that are homeless," Nakuset said.

For Sam Watts, CEO of the Welcome Hall Mission, there is ultimately only one solution.

"The answer is that we need to help them get back into housing," he said. "Governments have been very hesitant to provide solution-type support, instead providing temporary solutions and band-aids."

With files from Sharon Yonan-Renold

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now