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Quebec premier says critics of provincewide curfew trying to sow division in society

MONTREAL — Critics of the provincewide curfew who argue that homeless people should be exempted from the health order are trying to divide Quebecers, Premier Francois Legault said Thursday.
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MONTREAL — Critics of the provincewide curfew who argue that homeless people should be exempted from the health order are trying to divide Quebecers, Premier Francois Legault said Thursday.

The premier responded to recent calls from all three opposition parties, the mayor of Montreal and the federal indigenous services minister, who said the homeless shouldn't be included in the 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew. Their calls followed the death of a homeless man whose body was found in a portable toilet Sunday morning.

Legault told reporters he was saddened by the death of Raphael Andre. But, he added, Montreal police know the city's homeless population "very well" and won't give fines to that community "for fun."

"I've asked the opposition and many people to give me one example of a police officer who took a bad decision and they cannot answer that, so it's working well," he said, regarding the hundreds of instances when police have fined people for violating curfew.

Opposition Leader Dominique Anglade said on Twitter Thursday that the premier's assertion is false. She said she had told Legault about a homeless man who had reportedly received a ticket while on his way to an overnight shelter. 

"What the premier asserted at the press conference today is simply not true," Anglade said. 

Legault said everyone wants to help the homeless, adding that those who had criticized his government are trying to sow division in society.

"I find it very unfortunate to see certain people try to divide us, trying to say that there are good guys and bad guys, that there are some who care for the homeless and some who don’t care," he said. "We all want to help the homeless, it’s complex and it’s not the time to divide us, it’s the time to work together."

The premier said that an investigation into the man's death is ongoing and that it's not fair to say people are dying because of the curfew.

Legault has said the province has sufficient overnight shelter beds to accommodate the homeless during the curfew, which is scheduled to be in effect until at least Feb. 8. Quebec, however, recently announced it was adding 262 shelter beds in the Montreal area — including 150 beds in a soccer stadium for homeless people with COVID-19 who don't need to be hospitalized. 

The curfew is working, Legault said, citing the fact the province's infection rate has been lower over the past ten days compared with the beginning of January, before the health order entered into effect.

Meanwhile, Health Minister Christian Dube told reporters nearly 100 per cent of long-term care residents in Quebec have received a first dose of vaccine. Quebec, however, is sticking to its plan to delay administering second doses up to 90 days from the first dose, he added.

Public health director Dr. Horacio Arruda said he's aware of reports from Israel suggesting one dose provides significantly less protection than the two doses required by vaccine manufacturers. He said he's waiting to read scientific papers on the efficacy of a single dose before reccomending the province change course.

Legault repeated his call for the federal government to ban non-essential flights to Canada. If Ottawa refuses, the premier said he'd like to see travellers forced to quarantine for two weeks in hotels — at their own expense — where they can be monitored by police. Legault said he's particularly worried that people travelling to resorts in warm destinations could catch the highly contagious COVID-19 variants and bring them back to the province. 

"We cannot take any chances with the new variant," Legault said. "When I see the situation in hospitals in Great Britain, we don't want to see that. Right now, the quarantine for these people is not enough of a guarantee for the protection of Quebecers."

Forcing people to pay for a two-week hotel stay after a trip would not only make it easier to monitor them, it would also discourage people from travelling, he said.

Quebec reported 1,624 new cases of COVID-19 Thursday and 66 more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus, including 22 that occurred in the previous 24 hours. Health officials said hospitalizations dropped by 14, to 1,453, and the number of people in intensive care remained stable at 216.

The province has reported a total of 248,860 cases of COVID-19 and 9,273 deaths linked to the virus. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 21, 2021.

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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship

Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said the curfew was scheduled to last until at least Feb. 9.