Statement Regarding the Quebec Pandemic Response’s Disproportionate Impact on Unhoused and Migrant Populations
SSMU Executive Committee, Board of Directors, and Legislative Council
February 12, 2021
To members of the SSMU community,
On February 4, 2021, the SSMU Board of Directors ratified the Motion Condemning the Quebec Pandemic Response’s Disproportionate Impact on Unhoused Individuals, approved by the SSMU Legislative Council on January 28. This motion mandated the SSMU Executive Committee to release an official communication articulating the SSMU’s position on the Quebec government’s pandemic response.
The SSMU condemns the disproportionate impact of the Quebec government’s pandemic response on marginalised communities, particularly unhoused people and migrant workers. We stand in solidarity with these unfairly and disproportionately impacted groups, and call on our Members to do the same.
On January 9, 2021, the Quebec government imposed a province-wide curfew in an attempt to reduce community transmission of COVID-19. The government stated that anyone found outside their place of residence between 8:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m. could face a minimum fine of $1,000, but also published a list of acceptable reasons to break the curfew, such as medical emergencies or walking a dog. On February 2, the provincial curfew was extended for another two weeks, with administrative regions at the orange level entering a modified curfew spanning from 9:30 p.m. to 5:00 a.m.
While legal minds are split regarding the rights of the Quebec government to implement a curfew, it is apparent that it did so without fulfilling the legal protocols for justifying an action that violates both the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. The Supreme Court of Canada set out protocols for determining whether a provincial government’s limitation on Charter rights is reasonable and demonstrably justified in the landmark decision R. v. Oakes  1 S.C.R. 103; these protocols were not observed.
Further, the Quebec government refused to exempt unhoused individuals from the curfew, with Premier Legault stating that doing so would encourage others to break curfew and claim they are also unhoused. He offered the justification that there are enough beds in shelters available for the unhoused population, which workers on the ground and unhoused people say is not the case. Premier Legault also stated that he trusted police officers not to ticket unhoused individuals, despite reports that they have. These statements stand in stark contrast to the SSMU’s established position on housing, articulated in its Positions Book, that “a roof over one’s head is not a privilege”. On this basis, the SSMU recognises and condemns the harmful impact of the curfew on unhoused people.
The curfew also significantly affects migrant workers, in particular temporary placement agency workers, refugee claimants, and people without status, whose precarious employment status makes them liable to be outdoors during the curfew without letters of safe passage, and therefore vulnerable to criminalisation. So far, the government of Quebec has done nothing to address these concerns, despite months of calls to reduce the vulnerability of migrant workers during the pandemic.
With all this considered, the SSMU condemns the applicability of the Government of Quebec’s pandemic response towards marginalised communities, in particular unhoused people and migrant workers. Further, the SSMU stands in solidarity with these communities, and applauds the decision of the Honourable Chantal Masse to suspend the curfew’s application to unhoused people.
Lastly, we invite members of the SSMU community to sign this petition calling on Concordia University to use its currently vacant Grey Nuns residence as a temporary shelter for unhoused people, and to support the work of community organisations like Meals for Milton-Parc, the Immigrant Workers Centre, and Pas de solution policière à la crise sanitaire.
The Students’ Society of McGill University