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Montreal mayor disappointed with premier’s refusal to grant curfew exemption to homeless

Click to play video: 'Coronavirus: Open Door Shelter gears up to reopen overnight' Coronavirus: Open Door Shelter gears up to reopen overnight
WATCH: After going back and forth with the regional health authority, workers at the Open Door shelter say they finally have what they need to take the steps to reopen overnight. This comes after the death of a homeless man, just steps away from the shelter, sparked outrage. Global’s Felicia Parrillo reports – Jan 20, 2021

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante said, she’s saddened by the Legault government’s refusal to exempt people experiencing homelessness from the provincewide curfew.

Plante made the comment during an executive committee meeting Wednesday morning.

The month-long curfew, in which Quebecers are asked to stay home between the hours of 8 p.m. and 5 a.m., was put in place to curb transmission of the novel coronavirus. Fines for being out after curfew range between $1,000 and $6,000.

Plante made the official request on Tuesday, following the weekend death of Raphael Napa André.

The 51-year-old Innu man was found dead inside a portable toilet early Sunday morning on Jan. 17, near the Open Door shelter. André had been at the shelter Saturday night, but left when it closed at 9:30 p.m.

While it’s not yet known what led to André’s death, Plante said the fact he died outside, in a public bathroom, is a reflection of the level of distress experienced by many people experiencing homelessness.

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

Plante emphasized that while the city is doing what it can to support community organizations in the fight against homelessness, ultimately it’s an issue that falls under the responsibility of the provincial government.

The mayor said despite efforts to provide more beds for the homeless throughout the pandemic and especially during the winter months, resources are stretched thin.

Click to play video: 'Coronavirus: Montreal homeless advocates call for amnesty when it comes to curfew' Coronavirus: Montreal homeless advocates call for amnesty when it comes to curfew
Coronavirus: Montreal homeless advocates call for amnesty when it comes to curfew – Jan 7, 2021

“We understand the idea of ​​the curfew,” Plante said. “We’re not questioning that, but for people without a roof over their heads and when (shelters) are overflowing it adds stress.”

On Tuesday, Quebec Premier François Legault said an exemption could lead to people pretending to be homeless to avoid curfew rules.

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He also saw no need to make changes, commending police for a job well done in enforcing the rules.

Legault said officers used good judgment and weren’t going out of their way to ticket the homeless — indicating their job was to direct those people to shelters.

The premier accused Plante of not having faith in the officers of the Montreal 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, however, said Wednesday that wasn’t the case.

“I would like to say that the police are doing an important job,” she said. “I would like to thank them because since the start of the pandemic and particularly since the start of the curfew, they have always shown a great deal of judgment.”

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Plante said officers have so far helped redirect 400 people to the appropriate resources.

“The fact remains that the curfew and the possibility of being stopped by police creates a lot of stress for some people who are fragile,” she said. “That’s why yesterday, I asked the Legault government to exempt homeless people.”

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

Others are also criticizing Legault.

Open Door project coordinator, John Tessier,  called the premier’s comments “out of touch.”

“It’s noteworthy that he’s trusting the police officers to use discretion and that’s a good thing,” Tessier said. “But I would also think that he would trust the citizens and the public in general that voted him into office, to not commit fraud, and not lie that they are homeless people.”

In Ottawa, Indigenous Affairs Minister Marc Miller backed Plante, saying he was in favour of an exemption. He added he would have liked to see a more flexible and humane approach when it comes to the curfew.

“A law that imposes a curfew and forces someone to make a decision to take refuge in a chemical toilet, obviously, that goes to the heart of the debate,” Miller told reporters. “We must show more humanity, in my opinion.”

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Miller extended his condolences to André’s loved one. He said André’s death was avoidable and wasn’t caused by a lack of resources but by a failure at all levels of government.

Tessier, also believes André’s death could have been avoided, had Open Door’s overnight services not been temporarily suspended.

Open Door overnight services to resume

The shelter was closed from Dec. 17 to Jan. 11 following an outbreak of COVID-19 but overnight services have yet to resume.

On Monday, the regional health authority said it had given the Open Door a list of 13 public health recommendations and were waiting for them to be implemented.

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

Open Door, however, said they’ve only now received the information they need.

“Finally, we got in writing the things that they would like done,” Tessier said Wednesday. “The main thing is to buy some beds, cots, that are off the ground.”

Currently, the shelter has plastic mats that are on the floor.

“We have them because they are plastic and very easily disinfected,” Tessier said. “They would like to see something off the floor, because according to their research there is less chance of contracting the virus.”

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Tessier said the shelter is looking into ordering some cots and is hopeful they’ll be able to get back on track early next week.

Meanwhile, Plante says she will keep pushing for an exemption.

— With files from Global News’s Felicia Parrillo and The Canadian Press

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