On the night of Sunday, April 11, several hundred people demonstrated in Montreal against the 8 p.m. curfew. The next day, a second, smaller demonstration took place at the same location. The same evening, in the Hochelaga neighborhood of Montreal, clanking of pans could be heard from 8 p.m. onward. On the following Tuesday night, a demonstration took place in Quebec City and, for the third night in a row, another in Montreal. Clearly, opposition to the curfew in particular, and to the government’s horrible management of the pandemic in general, is growing. But this movement needs clear direction and demands.

Wave of discontent

In January, when the curfew was first imposed, many people were willing to accept it as a necessary and temporary evil to combat COVID-19, and denunciations of the measure were few. But now, while still convinced of the need to fight the pandemic, larger and larger segments of the population are demanding that the government reverse its decision and are calling for action against the curfew.

The government is replaying its tape and claiming that this “last effort” will defeat the third wave. This claim is laughable. Indeed, as experts have repeatedly stated, there is no scientific consensus on the effectiveness of a curfew against COVID-19. In fact, recent data from the INSPQ (National Institute of Public Health in Quebec) shows that the curfew would have had no impact on the number of people visiting each other at home!

In addition, at the time of writing, more than 55 per cent of active outbreaks in the province are in workplaces while 24 per cent are in schools. In light of these facts, does Quebec Premier François Legault really believe what he is saying when he says that the curfew is an effective measure? In addition, the spread of COVID-19 is very low in small outdoor gatherings. Why then does the government continue to tighten regulations on outdoor activities?

It would appear that the real “covidiot” who ignores science is the premier, François Legault.

Botched pandemic management

The curfew, which was supposed to be a one-time measure, has become the heavy-handed reflex of a government that wants to deflect attention from its responsibility for the spread of the virus.

The reality is that the third wave was entirely predictable. As we pointed out more than a month ago—at a time when no one was criticizing the CAQ’s reopenings—the INSPQ warned that reopening too soon would cause the number of cases to jump. But that is exactly what the government did.

This allowed the virus to spread to non-essential businesses that were reopened too soon. It also spread in poorly ventilated classrooms, putting teachers, children and their families at risk. And because of companies that put profits ahead of workers’ health, the virus has spread to workplaces that lack sanitary measures. This is why we have a third wave. 

To hide this fact, the government blames individuals and spares itself any responsibility. Playing the big bad father, Legault scolds his kids for poor sanitation and takes away their right to go for an evening walk or relax in the park. Meanwhile, the government is still refusing to tackle the virus in workplaces and schools, at least in Montreal.

As a supplement to genuine health measures, a stay-at-home order might be appropriate. However, it is the overall context of Legault’s curfew and its imposition by the police that makes it so distasteful. It took some arm-twisting to stop the curfew from being imposed on the homeless, after one homeless man died outside his shelter which was closed as he was hiding from the police in a porta potty. The heavy fines used to enforce the curfew are the height of hypocrisy: where are the fines for bosses who don’t follow sanitary measures? No wonder there is rising anger.

What are Québec solidaire and the unions doing?

Now that there is a growing protest movement, the CAQ government is trying to silence its opponents.

On April 13, the CAQ proposed a motion in the National Assembly calling on all parties to reiterate their confidence in the health package recommended by the ministry of public health, including the curfew.

Their strategy is clear: to portray anyone who opposes the curfew as someone who refuses to listen to public health in general, or even as a conspiracy theorist who minimizes the need to fight the virus.

Unfortunately, the leaders of Québec solidaire fell into the trap. In order to supposedly avoid giving the impression that they are not listening to science, the QS members of the Quebec legislature voted for this motion. In effect, they gave a left-wing cover to the government’s terrible management and repressive approach. 

Québec solidaire did try to make up for it. On April 14, the party proposed a motion stating that there must be a “democratic debate” on the curfew. But the party never clearly opposes it, neither in this motion nor in its public statements.

For fear of appearing too critical of the government or of being against health measures in general, the QS leadership has been paralyzed in a similar way many times in the past year. That is why they cannot cut through the CAQ’s false dilemma.

For their part, the unions are completely absent from the debate. After union leaders generally supported the curfew in January, they are currently silent on this issue.

As the entire opposition is on its knees, Legault must be laughing! 

We need an organized left-wing opposition

It is possible to continue to fight the pandemic while opposing the curfew. In fact, curfews alone don’t work, specifically because they don’t address the primary outbreak sites, which are workplaces and schools. Non-essential workplaces and schools are being kept open too long because the “economy” has to run (read: corporate profits have to come in).

This is what QS and the unions must dare to say. This is the only way to offer real opposition to the CAQ and to thwart its attempts to paint anyone who opposes the curfew as a “covidiot”.

In the meantime, the absence of a real left-wing leadership creates a political vacuum that leaves the field open to the real “covidiots”!

Sunday’s demonstration in Montreal was not organized by the far right after all, despite rumors that had circulated about it. The movement is mostly composed of angry young people who are not politically organized. But if the left doesn’t take the lead, conspiracy or far-right groups will eventually take advantage of the rising anger.

A program for the struggle

Let’s not give the right wing and the conspiracy theorists a monopoly on criticizing the CAQ’s management of the pandemic and the repressive measures they have implemented. The unions and QS have a duty to organize a mass movement against the curfew and for real measures to curb the pandemic.

Individuals should not be blamed for the CAQ’s mismanagement of the pandemic. To fight the virus, we must address the real causes of the third wave.

The labour movement must launch a massive campaign of walkouts to shut down non-essential businesses, with full pay for affected workers. School staff should exercise their right to withdraw until schools are safe, i.e., properly ventilated and with reduced classroom sizes.

Workers should collectively decide if their workplace is safe or not, and appropriate measures should be implemented immediately if it is not. We need real mass screening, which could start with the use of the millions of rapid tests inexplicably unused by governments and bosses.

This combative approach would show that the blame for the third wave lies with the government and the bosses. It would directly undermine the government’s propaganda, which places the responsibility on individuals. In addition, such a program would undermine the far-right reactionary elements and the anti-maskers. 

People are increasingly angry at the repressive measures implemented by the CAQ government, and its inability to deal with the pandemic. In this situation, it is entirely possible to build a mass movement against this government. All that is missing is a combative leadership from the labour movement and the left.