What began as a peaceful protest Sunday night, quickly elevated into a full-scale riot.
Montreal’s historic Old Port district was the site where several thousand people – mostly youths, gathered to protest the tightened curfew that had been set by Quebec premier Francois Legault. At first, people gathered and danced to music, lit fires, sang songs and chanted against the Legault government. Along with the new curfew limit, came the closing of the gyms that were only just allowed to re-open their doors after six months of closure. Gyms were open for just twelve days. If gyms are closed and being outside is restricted, many questioned how they were supposed to get exercise and a break from the monotony of being forced inside.
Legault’s curfew was already unpopular amongst Quebecers, with many asking for a reason for such an aggressive maneuver. Two weeks ago, the Quebec premier relaxed his 8pm curfew, extending the timeframe to 9:30 pm. For many though, that wasn’t enough. And with the curfew set to drop back down to 8pm again on Sunday – many gathered at Place Jacques Cartier in the Old Port to take part in a protest that was organized over the social media network, Facebook.
A live stream of the gathering showed a large gathering that seemed to be growing constantly even after the 8pm had come and gone – while police units blocked streets and watched. Chanting against the curfew restrictions, against premier Legault and eventual taunting of the police that stood in wait eventually picked up steam and boiled over. Fires could be seen being set in garbage cans while others began tearing down whatever they could find to form a lathe bonfire in the streets. Others smashed store windows and looted what they could, until the police had seen enough and began to mobilize.
One of the live stream videos report bus loads of police officers in riot gear arriving on scene, and tear gas was soon deployed as the officers moved in to shut down the rioting. By the times the smoke had cleared, flames extinguished and the dust had settled, multiple properties had been damaged and seven arrests made. A total of 107 tickets had been handed out as well. But the damaged had been done and a clear message sent to the premier.
“We’ve had enough” said a youthful protestor who wished to remain anonymous, after escaping the police. “Like, there’s no reason for this curfew at all. No proof of anything. Like, we literally just want to be outside. Legault is straight up just power tripping”. With weather moving closer to summer, keeping people inside looks as if it may become increasingly difficult. Before disappearing into the night, the unmasked youth told us he wouldn’t abide by any curfew and he didn’t care about any tickets that he may encounter along the way.
Legault decided to tighten the belt on the curfew despite a relatively stable case count, as a precaution, due to the heavy presence of COVID virus variants. A decision that has seemingly outraged many. Another youth, named Sara, said “Show me the science behind this shit and maybe I’ll listen. You can’t though. It’s made up. Legault is exaggerating this whole thing, for real.” After an expletives laden tirade against Legault, she too vowed to continue to disobey the curfew.
“People are allowed to protest, it’s their right. Do it right. Don’t attack people that are already suffering, that are are dealing with COVID just like they are, those protesters,” said Montreal mayor Valerie Plante.
The curfew first came into effect on January 9th and was relaxed after more than three months on March 17th. Just three weeks later, the curfew was dropped back to 8pm, with no end date announced. Many are feeling the pinch. Mentally and physically.