Montreal police arrested seven people and doled out more than 100 tickets to people flouting COVID-19 public health guidelines after a protest against an earlier curfew devolved into vandalism and violence.
Hundreds gathered in the city’s Old Port on Sunday night to demonstrate against the Quebec government’s decision to roll back curfew to 8 p.m. in Montreal and Laval amid the rise in infections in the province.
Quebec Public Security Minister Geneviève Guilbault says events like those of Sunday night in Old Montreal “cannot be tolerated.”
“We have the right to express our disagreement, but we must do so with the greatest respect for the health rules in force,” she wrote on social media Monday morning.
Police say they are still investigating possible incidents of mischief, arson, breaking and entering, and obstruction of police.
The protest began relatively calm, with a mostly young crowd dancing to music from loudspeakers while lighting fireworks and chanting. However, as some demonstrators began getting destructive, they were met with tear gas from police in a bid to control the crowd.
Videos shared on social media show people gathered in the streets of the old port, mostly not wearing masks nor distancing. Footage online also shows people setting things on fire, damaging property and smashing in windows of local businesses.
As a result, merchants are assessing damages to their local businesses Monday morning.
Robert Stutman, the owner of Brit & Chips, had his restaurant’s windows shattered. He says he also had to throw out the fish he had as a precaution.
“It’s just two windows which are easily reparable but it’s the hundreds of dollars worth of food that has to go to the garbage,” he said.
Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante says city crews are at the scene to clean up the mess left behind from the protest. She described what unfolded in the streets as “mayhem” that is “unacceptable.”
“People are allowed to protest,” she told reporters Monday afternoon. “It is their right, but do it right.
“Don’t attack people that are already suffering, that are dealing with COVID just like they are.”
On social media, she also invited Montrealers to visit the area and “encourage the merchants of Old Montreal.”
The protest came on the heels of Premier François Legault announcing that restrictions are being tightened in Montreal and Laval with the reinstatement of the 8 p.m. curfew as of Sunday. It will be maintained until further notice.
The curfew was first put in place for Montreal on Jan. 9 and was originally set to remain until Feb. 8. The Quebec government then continuously extended it — citing that it was helping decrease the number of daily reported COVID-19 infections.
Officials then extended it from 8 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. in mid-March, and last Thursday said they were again rolling it back by 90 minutes.
Legault said the measure is preventive amid rising COVID-19 infections across the province, which hit 1,535 on Sunday. Health officials say the presence of more contagious virus variants make Montreal and Laval more vulnerable to outbreaks due to their high population and density.
— With files from Global News’ Brayden Jagger Haines and The Canadian Press