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Some Montreal essential workers feel they’re being harassed by police after curfew

Some Uber and UberEats drivers say they feel police are focusing more on stopping them every night than nabbing rule-breakers who don't have a legitimate reason to be outside.
Click to play video: 'Coronavirus: Essential workers say they feel targeted by police for breaking curfew' Coronavirus: Essential workers say they feel targeted by police for breaking curfew
WATCH: Ride-sharing and food-delivery services are considered essential under Quebec's nightly curfew, and Uber drivers are allowed to be out after 8 p.m. But some say they don't feel police are treating them that way. As Global’s Benson Cook reports, that feeling is shared by many of the province's most marginalized essential workers and their advocates. – Feb 2, 2021

A number of essential workers, allowed to be out after 8 p.m. under the rules of Quebec’s nightly curfew, say they feel police are focusing more on stopping them each and every night than nabbing rule-breakers who don’t have a legitimate reason to be outside.

Ride-share and food-delivery services like Uber and DoorDash are considered essential, and drivers for those services are allowed to be out. Uber has issued official documentation to its Quebec employees to be shown if they’re stopped by police after curfew.

Gaurav Sharma, a recent immigrant to Canada, has been working for Uber’s food-delivery service UberEats since August of 2020. He says even on the nights he’s not stopped by police, he sees countless other UberEats drivers stopped.

“Not (just) me, every person,” he says of the problem.

Read more: Verdun resident upset with questioning by police during COVID-19 curfew check

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While he always has his essential-worker documentation ready when he’s stopped, Sharma says that alone isn’t always enough to satisfy officers. Many, he says, have inspected his car, or asked him how often he maintains it.

Each stop usually takes approximately 15 minutes, he says, which can create headaches when he’s supposed to be en route to pick up or deliver food for customers, work he says has been sparse relative to before the curfew was imposed.

Advocates like Mostafa Henaway of the Immigrant Workers Centre say Sharma’s far from alone.

“We’re seeing places that are targeted (by police) that are a bit odd, right?” Henaway said. “We know in the first instance of GoodFood, where workers received tickets outside of their workplace, who were working the evening and night shift.”

The incident Henaway is referring to took place in the curfew’s early days, in January, when several GoodFood employees were reportedly ticketed by police at a bus stop outside the company’s facility on Côte-de-Liesse Road in Montreal’s west end, despite showing letters from their employer.

Henaway says the problems essential workers face during police stops can be compounded when employers don’t properly prepare their workers’ curfew paperwork, an issue more common in industries like manufacturing, logistics and food service, where workers are often paid less in wages.

His organization has heard of instances where employers are “not printing them out for workers, they’re not adding in workers’ names, they’re just saying ‘here’s a letter’ in an email to workers.”

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Additional problems can arise, he says, when police can’t verify a person’s identity against any essential-worker documentation they provide, a frequent issue for recent immigrants who may not yet have a Quebec health card or driver’s licence, as well as those with no immigration status at all, who aren’t eligible for Quebec-issued ID cards.

Read more: Quebec curfew making life even harder for undocumented workers doing essential jobs, protesters say

Henaway says his organization is calling for the creation of municipal ID cards that wouldn’t require a person to prove their immigration status to get one. A similar program exists in New York City, known as IDNYC.

In a statement sent to Global News by email, Montreal police said they cannot comment on individual cases, but said it’s ultimately up to individual workers to prove their right to be out after curfew.

They added, however, that “each situation is assessed on a case-by-case basis and the police are asked to act with judgement and discernment.”

Sharma says that if that’s the case, though, the essential-worker letter he has from Uber should be enough, and he feels it’s often not.

“I feel the police are easily not satisfied with these things,” he said.

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