Police soon rushed the crowd, prompting dozens of protesters to scatter and cause mayhem down the cobblestone streets of Montreal’s tourist district.
They lit garbage fires at many intersections and seized projectiles from city streets, hurling them at nearby windows and shattering many.
A spokeswoman for Montreal police said she couldn’t offer any comment on the protests, describing them as an ongoing situation. She said that more information would become available as things stabilized and police on the scene could file their reports.
Marwah Rizqy, a Liberal member of the provincial legislature that represents a Montreal riding, tweeted her disapproval of the protestors’ actions.
“Chanting freedom while ransacking windows of stores that are already just getting by. It’s disheartening / outrageous,” Rizqy tweeted in French.
A few protesters were still out on the streets at around 9:30 p.m. throwing glass, breaking city infrastructure and running from police.
Sirens rang through the streets as firefighters put out the many small blazes lit along Old Montréal’s alleys and narrow roads.
The curfew ostensibly at the heart of the protest was imposed to curb COVID-19 infection rates that have spiked in several regions in recent weeks.
Quebec reported 1,535 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday, as well as five additional deaths linked to the virus.
Hospitalizations jumped by 25 to 608, with 139 patients in intensive care.
Health Minister Christian Dube tweeted that the numbers are concerning given that 58 per cent of new cases involve people under the age of 40.
“While vaccination accelerates, we must continue to adhere to the measures if we want to defeat this pandemic,” Dube wrote.
“Let’s show solidarity.”
Legault said last week that he was imposing the health order in Montreal and Laval despite a relatively stable case count as a precaution, due to the heavy presence of more contagious virus variants.
Residents in those regions who leave their homes between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m. without a good reason could face fines of over $1,000.
Legault extended the curfew in Montreal and other red zones from 8 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. in mid-March, but said last week that the evolving COVID-19 situation gave him no choice but to reverse course.
Legault previously placed Quebec City, Levis, Gatineau and several municipalities in Quebec’s Beauce region under the earlier curfew.
The government also closed schools and non-essential businesses in those areas, and Legault announced Thursday that the measures would be extended until at least April 18.
The province also gave 59,447 doses of vaccine on Saturday, and has currently given a shot to just over 22 per cent of the population.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 11, 2021
Giuseppe Valiante, The Canadian Press
As MPs urge support, Trudeau demurs on whether government backs COVID-19 waiver
WASHINGTON — Justin Trudeau stopped well short Friday of endorsing efforts to lift the veil on the trade secrets behind COVID-19 vaccines, insisting instead that Canada is already doing plenty to improve access to doses around the world.
Those efforts include taking earnest part in negotiations at the World Trade Organization about a possible waiver to the rules that protect those secrets, the prime minister told a news conference.
But whether he believes such a step would have the desired effect of rapidly increasing the supply of vaccines in the developing world, Trudeau pointedly refused to say.
“We need to emphasize that these are multilateral discussions with a great number of countries who all have different perspectives,” he said in French when asked if he supports the idea.
“Canada is at the table to help find a solution. We’re not blocking any negotiations; we need to work in the right way to ensure that people around the world will be vaccinated.”
In theory, a waiver to the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, or TRIPS, would make it easier for developing countries to import the expertise, equipment and ingredients necessary to make their own vaccines.
The idea has been gaining steam in recent weeks, winning endorsements from progressive activists, lawmakers and anti-poverty groups around the world.
It got its biggest push to date Wednesday when U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai expressed American support for the idea and committed to text-based talks at the World Trade Organization.
Critics, however, call the idea wrong-headed, citing the glacial pace of WTO talks, the fact all 164 member countries would need to sign off, the complexities of vaccine manufacturing and the importance of the pharmaceutical business model that helped develop the vaccines in the first place.
Ottawa’s position on the proposed waiver has been slow to coalesce.
International Trade Minister Mary Ng initially tweeted Canada’s support for the U.S. decision and promised to work with its closest trading partner, but did not say if Canada would join the talks or advocate for a waiver.
Her promise in the House of Commons the next day committed Canada to sitting down at the negotiating table, but again left out any clues as to what position the government would take.
“We certainly are going to be actively participating in these negotiations,” Ng said Friday, adding that Canada is focused on removing “all barriers” to vaccines, including production problems, supply-chain bottlenecks or export restrictions.
To make that point, Trudeau announced a $375-million cash infusion Friday for a World Health Organization “accelerator” that fosters the development and distribution of COVID-19 tests, therapeutic drugs and vaccines to low- and middle-income countries.
Ng’s statement earlier Friday also made clear that the government “firmly believes in the importance of protecting (intellectual property).”
Diana Sarosi, policy and campaigns director for Oxfam Canada, called it a step in the right direction that Canada has agreed to talks, but assailed the government’s “wait-and-see approach” on intellectual property.
“Canada continues to prioritize profits over public health,” Sarosi said in a statement.
Others in the House of Commons, including members of Trudeau’s own government, are making their position crystal clear.
A broad coalition of parliamentarians from across the political spectrum wrote to Trudeau this week to express support for a temporary waiver. More than 75 MPs and senators had signed on by Friday afternoon.
“We’re not talking about running shoes or farm equipment — we are talking about a global health crisis, a planetary pandemic, that puts all of us at risk,” NDP MP Don Davies told a news conference.
“I think it’s a fair criticism to say that a number of countries — and I’m sorry to include Canada in this, but I must — have been stalling that process.”
Even Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole joined the fray.
“Conservatives support a temporary suspension to intellectual property rules in this pandemic to help get vaccines as quickly around the world as possible,” O’Toole said Friday.
A waiver is strongly opposed by the pharmaceutical industry, as well as a number of key world leaders who say it would be counterproductive to current vaccine production efforts and undermine the very business model that gave rise to the vaccines in the first place.
Others warn that consensus is notoriously difficult to come by at the world trade body — any single country can kill a proposal. Several prominent members, including Germany and the U.K., stand firmly opposed to the idea of a waiver.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 7, 2021.
— With files from Mia Rabson, Stephanie Taylor and Lina Dib in Ottawa
James McCarten, The Canadian Press
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version said all signatories to the letter were MPs.
Manitoba’s top doctor questioned in church challenge of COVID-19 restrictions
WINNIPEG — Manitoba’s top doctor told a court challenge of the province’s public health rules Friday that restrictions on faith-based gatherings had to be imposed because health care was being overwhelmed during the pandemic’s second wave.
Seven churches are fighting public health orders meant to stem the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
“We could not be wrong,” Dr. Brent Roussin testified in Court of Queen’s Bench. “We had to limit places we knew transmission was going to occur because our hospitals were full.”
Roussin, chief public health officer, told court there were numerous clusters of infections linked to faith-based gatherings before churches were closed down last November.
At the time, non-essential stores were also shuttered and group gatherings banned as cases surged and a deadly wave of infections swept through long-term care homes.
“Our hospitals were full of COVID-19 patients. Our ICUs were full of COVID-19 patients,” Roussin testified.
“We had to act on the trends we were seeing. We were in crisis.”
Roussin, who has a medical and a law degree on top of a master of public health, has been the face of Manitoba’s response since the beginning of the pandemic.
The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, a Calgary-based group representing the churches, has said Manitoba’s public health rules are unjustified violations of charter-protected freedoms.
The churches are arguing their right to worship and assemble has been violated by the restrictions, which has led to “a crisis of conscience, loneliness and harm to their spiritual well-being.”
Public health orders targeting churches were loosened in January. Worship services are currently restricted to 10 people or 25 per cent capacity, whichever is less, and everyone is required to wear a mask.
Government lawyers have told court it’s within the bounds of the legislature to grant the chief public health officer authority to impose reasonable rules.
Jared Brown, a lawyer for the churches, questioned if the application of public health orders was fair, whether enforcement was applied evenly and if the restrictions were successful.
“Shutting down churches has not stopped community spread,” Brown said.
Roussin said cases dropped after the restrictions came into place. But he agreed that community transmission is still taking place and added the more infectious variants have brought new challenges.
The Manitoba government reported 502 new COVID-19 cases Friday, the highest one-day count since the pandemic’s second wave. Health officials said they are adding intensive care beds to prepare for a surge of hospitalizations.
Brown spent much of his cross-examination asking Roussin about studies, data collection and the efficacy of the PCR test, one of the main ones used to detect the virus.
Roussin said PCR tests have been important to understand what is happening in the community. Seven per cent of positive cases show up in hospital about 10 days later.
He told court there would be severe economic and societal consequences if COVID-19 were allowed to spread unchecked.
Roussin testified that hospitals fill up and more health-care workers are out sick when there’s significant community infection. It can mean serious problems even for people who don’t have the virus but need health services.
He said that the goal with public health orders is to keep people safe, avoid deaths as much as possible and minimize social disruption. The province is still studying some of the unintended or unexpected consequences of the orders, he added.
Roussin told court many physicians and nurses have called for even tighter restrictions.
“I’m bound by using the least restrictive means.”
The constitutional challenge is one of the latest attempts by churches across the country to quash pandemic restrictions on faith gatherings.
The Justice Centre has filed similar challenges in Alberta and British Columbia.
In Alberta, a pastor accused of violating public health orders was on trial earlier this week.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 7, 2021.
Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press
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