David Chapman has recently collected a handful of tickets issued to those who are experiencing homelessness, mostly for breaking the province’s curfew rule.
As the project coordinator at Resilience Montreal, he says getting people who don’t have a home to seek shelter isn’t always easy.
“We’re talking about people who often have mental health issues, trauma issues,” said Chapman.
“Often, many of them are afraid to enter a shelter, and it’s not a simple, rational calculation like there’s a shelter available, there’s a spot for you, so why don’t you go right now. It’s more complicated than that.”
Quebec is nearly halfway into a four-week overnight curfew that has had community groups and Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante worried about its effects on the city’s homeless population.
Many have asked Quebec’s premier to exempt the homeless from the rule, but he has repeatedly refused, saying that police won’t give out tickets just for fun.
“It’s clear that the police are showing a significant degree of discretion and I hope that continues, but it’d be nice to see the premier show a bit more discretion towards the homeless,” said Chapman.
A new study released this month from the University of Ottawa shows that Montreal police have significantly increased how often they ticket the homeless.
“In 2014, we had seen a drop in those numbers — down to around 3,841 tickets, and now since 2014, it’s really skyrocketed and tripled in numbers,” said Marie-Eve Sylvestre, law professor and dean at the University of Ottawa.
According to the study, police issued 9,580 tickets to those who are experiencing homelessness in 2017 and 8,493 in 2018.
The researchers also found that the homeless population accounts for 40 per cent of all tickets issued by police.
Sylvestre says the upwards trend is extremely worrisome, especially as we continue to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, and its restrictions.
“What’s happening right now is really aggravating their vulnerability and as the tragic story of Raphael André has shown, it’s actually costing lives and not preventing COVID-19.”
Researchers used data from Montreal’s municipal courts to study the issue, looking at the addresses people gave when being fined. Whenever a shelter and centre’s address was used, they were counted as homeless.
The study showed that many of the fines issued were for drinking in public, some for loitering and obstructing traffic.
In a statement, Montreal police claim the data and number of tickets don’t represent the complexity of the work done by officers and “that tickets are a last resort when other measures aren’t available.”