Two consecutive nights of destructive anti-curfew protests in Montreal

“Freedom of speech is a beautiful thing, and it’s something we must honour. This is not it.”

Residents of Montreal’s Old Port are still reeling from an April 11 protest turned riot on the first night of the newly rolled back 8 p.m. curfew.

Since Jan. 9, a curfew has been enforced as hospitalizations throughout the province surged. In mid-March, curfew was rolled back to 9:30 p.m. as death rates began to drop. Sunday was the first day that the earlier curfew of 8 p.m. was reinstated, with what Premier François Legault claimed to be a precautionary measure to avoid indoor gatherings. There is no end date for the latest 8 p.m. curfew, and young Montrealers have grown increasingly frustrated over the lack of scientific data that prove the effectiveness of curfews on the spread of the virus.

For two consecutive nights, protestors gathered to denounce the latest curfew in Old Montreal and downtown. While the protests have not been claimed by any organization or known organizers, many of the protestors were youth, some under 18 years old. Efforts in promoting the protests are made through multiple Instagram pages and Facebook posts, many of whom say they are not organizers or know organizers directly, but simply promoting details related to the cause. Rioters amongst the protestors vandalised and damaged businesses, and both nights ended with arrests and ticketing.

“We heard shouting, hollering, and it sounded at first like some people were throwing a party, like a rave,” said an anonymous resident who lived blocks away from the protest center on the first night of demonstrations. “Then we went over to the window and realized people were protesting.”

At its peak, over 1,000 protestors gathered in Place Jacques-Cartier after 8 p.m. on Sunday. Rioters amongst the crowd lit a garbage can on fire and set off fireworks. Police began to make arrests and reportedly handed out over 100 tickets for defying public health restrictions. On the second night of protests, 192 tickets were handed out and six arrests were made. 

The crowd dispersed and spread outwards, some causing destruction along the way. Rioters smashed windows of small shops, restaurants, and residential buildings. Small fires were set throughout St-Paul St. and elsewhere throughout the neighbourhood and fireworks went off throughout the night.

The morning after, the destruction could be seen throughout Old Montreal, with piles of black ash at multiple points in the neighbourhood.

“They went and hit the people who have had the most difficulties,” said Isabelle Kapsaskis, an associate at L’Empreinte Cooperative, a co-op of 20 local artists and artisans from Montreal and greater Quebec. “We’re working really hard, and we’re trying to be positive. But this morning, it feels like we took another blow.”

“They went and hit the people who have had the most difficulties. We’re working really hard, and we’re trying to be positive. But this morning, it feels like we took another blow.” — Isabelle Kapsaskis

Kapsaskis was managing calls between the insurance company as well as representatives from Société du Vieux Port who were arriving at the scene to repair damages to the storefront. Both of the store’s display windows were smashed as well as some neighbouring businesses on the same street.

“The acts from last night were individualistic and selfish. They brought nothing, they helped nobody. It was gratuitous violence,” said Gaël Comtois, an artist at Wellington Agency, whose office is located in Old Montreal. “Freedom of speech is a beautiful thing, and it’s something we must honour. This is not it.”

A second protest was rumoured to take place the following night, at Place Jacques Cartier after the 8 p.m. curfew. Shortly after 8 p.m., heavy police presence began to mount, with squad cars and law enforcement circling the area on bikes.

A few stray protestors wandered around the area, asking where exactly the protest was taking place. Eventually, police responded to calls of the protest having been relocated to Phillips Square in downtown.

Shortly after 8:30 p.m., fires in garbage cans were again lit and fireworks were set off around Ste-Catherine St. Several chases took place, and police began to hand out tickets. Police blocked off Ste-Catherine St. at multiple points, stopping cars to check for mandates beyond curfew hours.

“We’re here for the real protest,” said Keisha and Chris, two protestors who were also part of Sunday night’s protest. “The people who rioted last night, vandalized windows, we’re not a part of that. Because we know that small businesses are fighting the same fight we are. We’re fighting for those businesses to stay open.”

Many who are denouncing the riots agree that the government should improve their handling of the latest wave of COVID cases. Small businesses who have been affected, as well as residents of Old Montreal, say they understand why the protestors are angry with the latest 8 p.m. curfew.

“The only thing I’m sure of is that we can get out of this together,” said Comtois. “We need the government to collaborate authentically and transparently with citizens, otherwise we will continue to end up with situations like this.”