UPDATE: Quebec won't challenge court ruling exempting homeless from curfew

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By Adam Kovac, CTV News Montreal

Quebec's homeless do not have to abide by the province's curfew, as it discriminates and disproportionately hurts them, a Superior Court judge ruled on Tuesday.

In her ruling, Judge Chantal Masse wrote that the curfew poses a threat to the health and safety of the homeless, as many hide from police to avoid fines during the hours the curfew is in effect and that many fear contracting COVID-19 in homeless shelters.

On Wednesday morning, the Quebec government said they don't intend to challenge the ruling. 

"We have taken note of the decision rendered last night and do not intend to challenge it," wrote Lionel Carmant, minister for Coalition Avenir Quebec in health and social services.

"Since the start of the curfew, our desire has been for people experiencing homelessness to be guided to the right resources," wrote the minister on social media.

Montreal's homeless shelters have been the sites of several outbreaks of the virus.

"I think there's a certain amount of fear, whether rational or irrational doesn't matter, and people who are fearful react very poorly sometimes in situations and they may see police officers or other authority figures and go and try to hide," said Welcome Hall Mission CEO Sam Watts. "And, of course, in a Montreal winter, we really don't want people trying to hide. We'd like to encourage them to come in off the street. Ultimately, that's what's going to help them get back into permanent housing."

Masse further noted that many of the province's homeless don't have access to shelter for a variety of reasons and of those who do, are unable to stay in the shelters during the curfew hours.

Premier Francois Legault has repeatedly defended not giving the homeless an exemption to the curfew, saying he believed police would use discretion in not handing out fines. But Masse wrote in her ruling that evidence showed tickets were given to the homeless regardless.

The curfew is in effect from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. until Feb. 8.

Native Women's Shelter Executive Director Nakuset said the ruling "means that people are free to freeze to death after 8. If you're homeless, you can wander the streets by yourself."

"Being homeless and being given a ticket for not having a place is like having a slap in the face. Now, with this exemption, it's more like a tap in the face, because the problem is still there."

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Health and Social Services declined to comment, saying time was needed to analyze the ruling. 

Resilience Montreal, which is run by the Native Women's Shelter, announced plans on Tuesday to open a heated tent in Cabot Square. Nakuset that even after the ruling, that plan would still move forward.

The case was brought by the Mobile Legal Clinic, which provides legal services to the homeless. In a post on their Facebook page, the clinic welcomed the ruling, saying it “protects the rights and welfare of people in a homeless situation during this time of pandemic.” 

Donald Tremblay, one of the clinic's lawyers, said they could not comment on particulars since the government could appeal the decision, but did say the clinic is "very happy the rights and the well-being of homeless people in Quebec were taken into consideration through the judgement that was rendered today."

Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante also welcomed the ruling, saying on Twitter that the decision "will make life easier for people experiencing homelessness and for those working in the field who support them."

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