After nearly 140 days of curfew, Quebecers across the province took advantage of the looser restrictions this weekend to party late into the night, though some were more eager than others to shed the decency imposed by the pandemic.
On both Friday and Saturday nights, impromptu celebrations broke out in parks and other public areas in Montreal and Quebec City. They were accompanied by several violent clashes that resulted in at least three people being hospitalized.
On Monday, Montreal police said they were concerned about both the number of violent incidents over the weekend and the looser approach to compliance with ongoing public health measures.
“The first weekend of Deconfining posed some challenges for the Montreal police force, “said Insp. David Shane, a police spokesman, using the French term for the process of easing restrictions.
“Everyone is happy. I am happy. We are all happy to see the family and to meet them. But we have to remember that the fight against the virus is not over yet.”
The celebrations in Montreal’s Old Port were particularly loud. Riot police dispersed a crowd of several thousand early Sunday morning after one person was shot and another was stabbed in an altercation on Place Jacques-Cartier.
“At 1:30 am, people started shooting fireworks right behind the Pointe-à-Callière Museum. You could see fireworks in the air, crowds of people running through the streets,” said Carolyn Pinto, a longtime Old Montreal resident.
Along with the end of the curfew at 9:30 p.m., restaurants and some bars in Montreal were allowed to reopen for the first time since the fall, although customers had to sit outside and were limited to small groups.
After a few pints, the night owls brought energy to the long dormant streets of Montreal, but also left piles of rubbish in the morning, business owners said.
“This is exactly what will scare off our local customers or tourists. The city and the police have to deal with this situation,” said Jean-Marc Lavoie, general manager of the Jardin Nelson restaurant on Place Jacques-Cartier.
Montreal police said they would reach out to business owners and step up patrols in Old Montreal and other central neighborhoods.
Shane said police operate on the hypothesis that public health regulations, which put bars and clubs closed for months, have shifted nighttime violence to residential areas of the city.
“With Deconfining maybe we’ll see [criminal] Events back downtown, “he said, adding that police counted around a dozen violent incidents over the weekend, ranging from murder to fighting.
“We have to be a little more careful”
In Quebec City, too, some open-air celebrations drove into excess. A large crowd had gathered in Victoria Park to announce the end of the curfew on Friday.
Those in attendance described fireworks exploding and cheering as the clock struck 9:30 p.m. “It was like the end of a war. It was like May 1945,” a resident told Radio-Canada.
But the police had to vacate the park shortly afterwards when a man in his twenties was stabbed and in another incident a woman was hit on the head with a bottle at almost the same time.
City officials announced Monday that they would change a rule that allowed drinking alcohol (with food) in some parks until 11 p.m.
The city also reminded park visitors to pick up their rubbish before returning home.
The large crowds in Quebec’s parks also tested the limits of ongoing public health regulations. In many cases, night owls ignored physical distancing guidelines and did not wear masks in close proximity to others.
“This is not the time to hug everyone,” said Shane, the Montreal police spokesman.
Health Minister Christain Dubé admitted on Monday that some of the weekend gatherings in parks were against the rules, but also said these incidents were the exception.
“If we want a good September and don’t find ourselves in a fourth wave, then I think we have to get vaccinated and follow public health rules,” said Dubé.
He even suggested that health officials could use crowded parks and restaurants to further support the vaccination campaign.
“If we have to go to the parks, if we have to go to them Terracesto get people vaccinated, we will, “Dubé said, adding that he had a meeting earlier in the day to explore the possibility.
Quebec registered 276 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday. Sixty percent of the population have received one dose of vaccine, but only five percent have received the second dose needed for maximum protection from the disease.