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Coronavirus: Montreal mayor calls on premier to exempt homeless from COVID-19 curfew

Click to play video: 'Montreal mayor calls for curfew amnesty for city’s homeless following death of Raphael André' Montreal mayor calls for curfew amnesty for city’s homeless following death of Raphael André
WATCH: Montreal mayor Valerie Plante is the latest figure to join a chorus of advocates calling for amnesty for the city's homeless population when it comes to Quebec's nightly curfew. She argues it adds an unnecessary amount of stress on the community, when resources are already stretched thin. Global’s Olivia O’Malley reports – Jan 19, 2021

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante is calling on the Quebec government to exempt homeless people from the provincewide curfew which was put in place to curb the transmission of COVID-19.

Plante made the request Tuesday, following the death of a homeless man Sunday morning.

Raphael Napa André, a 51-year-old Innu man, was found at around 3 a.m. that morning in a portable toilet near the Open Door shelter in Montreal’s Plateau-Mont-Royal borough.

“As many Montrealers, I am deeply shocked by what happened to Raphael Napa André,” Plante said. “This homeless man died tragically.”

André was at the Open Door on Saturday night but left at closing time at 9:30.

Read more: Coroner investigating death of Montreal homeless man found inside portable toilet

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Operation of the shelter’s overnight warming centre was temporarily suspended following recommendations issued by Montreal public health following an outbreak of COVID-19.

Plante said the city is working to support Open Door and get the warming centre back up and running.

Overall, the mayor pointed to a difficult situation, facing the city’s most vulnerable residents.

Despite having anticipated a greater need for more beds throughout the winter months, Plante said more resources are needed.

Read more: Coronavirus surge puts Montreal shelter with supervised alcohol consumption on hold

Last week, 95 per cent of beds were occupied according to the mayor leaving little room to maneuver in case of overflow.

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“There’s a lot of beds, but there are nights where there’s not enough beds and we need to continue to offer more options,” Plante said. “This is what we’re working towards with the government of Quebec.”

Plante said the overnight curfew — in place between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m. — is only creating more stress not only for the homeless but those who work with them too.

“People are tired, people are exhausted,” she said. “We’re having trouble even to get new resources, the curfew just adds to that and creates a sense of insecurity for a lot of users and we don’t want that.”

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“That is not what I want for Montreal, I want people to feel safe in the streets. I want people to have access to a bed — a place where it’s warm, where there’s food, where there’s services for them, so I’m asking the government of Quebec to make this exception for the homeless population,” Plante pleaded.

Read more: Advocates say at least six Montreal homeless people ticketed for curfew offenses in first week

Premier François Legault, however, was not swayed.

While Legault did express his condolences to André’s loved ones and pointed to the coroner’s investigation probing his death, he indicated the incident wasn’t linked to the curfew.

“What we understand is that the shelter that is near to where he died was closed because of an outbreak,” Legault said.

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The premier also commended police for their work enforcing the curfew.

“I think the police people are doing a very good job; they use their judgment,” Legault said, adding their interventions have led to several house gatherings, thought to be a high source of community transmission, being broken up.

He said officers weren’t going out of their way to ticket homeless people and feared some would try take advantage of an amnesty.

“If we change the rules and say you cannot give a ticket to someone that is saying he is homeless, you may have some people who may pretend to be homeless,” Legault said.

The premier reiterated his belief in the provincewide curfew and accused Plante of lacking faith in Montreal’s police service (SPVM).

“Right now it’s working well,” Legault said. “I’m confident in the work of police people and I don’t understand why Mrs. Plante is not confident in the SPVM.”

Plante is the latest to add her voice to the chorus of those calling for the Legault government to exempt homeless people from the curfew. An official National Assembly petition presented by Parti Québécois MNA Véronique Hivon has just under 12,000 signatures. All opposition parties support the idea.

— With files from Global News’ Olivia O’Malley and Dan Spector

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