Protesters, mostly unmasked, gathered in Montreal on Saturday to protest against public health restrictions such as Quebec’s curfew order.
With the economy fully open, they called for them to return to normal life, as they once did without fear that the police would knock on their door to impose fines on illegal gatherings.
Following Sherbrook and Viaway streets, a large group marched around Mysonnew Park and Botanical Gardens to Rosemond Boulevard and Bourbonier Avenue.
Halfway through, the march was estimated to have covered an area of about two kilometers.
“We can no longer take independence in this country,” said Maxim Bernier, leader of the Confederate People’s Party of Canada. He called for an end to curfew and locking operations.
“The people here are ready, they are responsible. They want to regain their freedom.”
According to Montreal Police Spokesman Const. Manuel Kodour, the opposition was generally silent. However, he said there have been dozens of interventions for non-compliance with health measures and some arrests for obstructing the work of police officers.
The protest forced public health officials to reschedule vaccination appointments at the Olympic Stadium and, in some cases, transfer them to other clinics.
“This is very unfortunate,” Quebec Health Minister Christian Dube wrote on Twitter on Friday. “We respect the right to protest, but vaccination is a priority.”
Resistance to the proposed ‘immunity passports’
Samuel Grenier, one of the organizers of the demonstration with the group with the Quebec debate (Quebec stands up), said the event included anti-vaccine activists and their supporters.
Collectively, the protesters oppose the notion of an “immunity passport,” which would allow people to show that they have been vaccinated to facilitate access to services or travel.
Federal Health Minister Patti Hajdu said the government accepts the idea of a “vaccinated passport” as a way to help vaccinated Canadians travel internationally.
At the provincial level, the province has said it wants to provide digital evidence of vaccination for Quebecs, although the context in which it can be used is unclear.
Grenier said protesters are also protesting the move, which has set aside family and friends for so long. He said he could not wait to see the government’s plan to return to normal life.
On the Facebook page of the Quebec debate, the group posted photos of themselves gathering without masks and ignoring physical distance. In the videos, people talk to each other and to the camera while standing shoulder to shoulder without covering the face.
“I’m on tour, I sell top trips,” Antonella Cicero, who marched on Saturday, told the CBC News. “I’ve been self-employed, and I’ve been closed for a whole year.”
Others, such as Lawrence Lollipop, protested against the curfew.
“Why do we have to go home at eight o’clock? COVID does not stop after 8 o’clock,” he said.
Amid concerns that indoor meetings are a significant pervasive source in an attempt to prevent the Quebec government from issuing a curfew order in other people’s homes.
The mayor says the measures should be ‘respected’
Corinne Gentron, professor of strategy, social and environmental responsibility at the University of Quebec Montreal, says that despite the large number of protesters, the majority of Quebecs are fully supportive of public health activities.
“It’s not that they want to shut up, but they believe in the effectiveness and necessity of these measures,” he said.
On Twitter, Montreal Mayor Valerie Blonde said she was concerned about the protests. He did not question the right to demonstrations, but said that enacting drastic public health measures was the best way to return to normalcy. These measures should be “respected,” he said, to help ensure a “dynamic and normal summer”.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made a similar comment on Friday, saying that large protests “increase the risk of further cases of COVID-19 and extend the time we have to deal with restrictions and public health measures.”
While the province’s vaccination campaign is taking steam, experts say Quebecans still need to follow the rules in ambush.
“We still need to take care of each other,” said Dr. Matthew Octon, an epidemiologist at the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal.
“For me, the best way to get rid of these restrictions is to overcome the disease. Not just saying, ‘Well, it’s time to stop these restrictions,’ because if we do, we’re setting ourselves up for worse and worse problems.”
COVID-19 continues to spread
The protest came as Quebec registered 1,101 new COVID-19 cases and seven related deaths on Saturday.
The number of patients at the hospital has dropped from 14 to 578, with 159 in intensive care and five reduced, health officials say. There are 9,579 active cases in the province. Quebec has recorded 10,933 deaths since the outbreak.
The province administered 62,406 doses of Govt-19 vaccine Friday; More than 36 percent of the population has received at least the first dose.
All adults in the province are expected to be able to book an appointment by mid-May.