On January 17th, 2020, a homeless man was found lifeless in a portable toilet near Milton/Park. The man was hiding from the police to avoid getting a ticket for being outside after curfew. His name was Raphaël André.
Valerie Plante's and Legault's Response
After the tragic news broke out, many quickly took to social media to express their discontent about the situation, with many blaming the government, especially Prime Minister Legault and Valerie Plante. Although Valerie Plante previously stated that she preferred if the SPVM did not ticket the homeless, she never forced officers to ignore the homeless during curfew hours. Although no officers were forced to ignore the homeless, many chose not to ticket them, bring them to shelters or ignore them altogether. But the fear of being ticketed is the key determinant in the death of Raphaël André, and the only way to stop this fear is for Legault to exempt the homeless population from curfew regulations.
Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller quickly criticized François Legault, stating that Legault should ease curfew restrictions for the homeless. But, Marc Miller was not the only person to criticize Legault. Nakuset, the executive director of the Native Women's Shelter of Montreal, stated that if it were not for organizations' hard work, the situation would be much worse. Nakuset said that Legault did not have an "action plan" and that he seemed to brush off the problem or even ignore it.
Since the death of Raphaël, Valerie Plante urged Legault to exempt the homeless from the curfew, claiming that the curfew caused too much stress to the homeless community and made their situation worse. Sadly, Legault seems to have a different point of view, as he stated in a press conference earlier this week: "I was told that if we change the decree, there's a risk that people would use this excuse as a way to walk around in the streets after 8 p.m." Legault further stated that he trusted the SPVM to make the right decisions and that their primary job was not to ticket the homeless but direct them to shelters. Again, Legault seems to be deviating; as stated above, the real danger of the curfew for the homeless is the fear it propagates among the community, and even though some homeless people have been ticketed, there haven't been many.
Another problem that the curfew imposes on the homeless community is with the management of homeless shelters. Since the new curfew measures, many homeless people are not granted the right to leave the shelter and go outside after 8 PM; although this might not seem such a big deal for most readers of this blog, it is for the homeless. Many homeless people suffer from mental illness and addiction and, in many cases, both. Many homeless people might feel trapped or scared, and because of mental illness and addiction, some might pose a threat to others or even themselves. Allowing the homeless to go outside, breathe fresh air, or even go out for a smoke would significantly improve their current situation.
Improvements, and a sign of hope?
Although these recent events have hit the homeless community very hard, there is some good news. Last week, Montreal health officials announced that soon they would be vaccinating around 2000 homeless people, representing more than half of the homeless population in Montreal. At the time of writing this, over 400 homeless people have been vaccinated in Montreal.
The Pierre Charbonneau arena has also been converted into a 24/7 homeless shelter with a maximum capacity of 112 people. This homeless shelter is 24/7, which will help the homeless community enormously, as they will not have to leave the shelter during the day if they do not want to, unlike other shelters in Montreal.
Amid all these tragic events, there seems to be an improvement. But so far, the government has completely failed the homeless community by acting reactively and not proactively, mostly depending on organizations. The death of Raphaël André was an avoidable one, and decisions should have been made sooner to help the homeless population during these times. However, Legault has still not made any changes, even in the aftermath of recent events, which is very problematic and worrisome.