Quebec court maintains COVID-19 curfew after Charter challenge

In a recent ruling, a provincial court justice of the peace in Quebec upheld the government's imposition of curfews during the COVID-19 pandemic. The curfew, which required residents to stay indoors from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m., was found to have infringed on Charter-protected rights such as freedom of expression and lawful assembly. However, the judge determined that these violations were reasonable and justified given the public health context.

The judge acknowledged that the pandemic and the rapid increase in COVID-19 cases presented exceptional circumstances that required the government to adopt measures to reduce the spread of the virus and protect the population's health. It was argued that the uncertainty surrounding the long-term impacts of the pandemic necessitated the implementation of a curfew as a precautionary measure.

The case involved Stéphanie Pépin and seven others who broke the curfew by holding a demonstration in January 2021. Pépin challenged the health order, with the support of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms based in Calgary. Their lawyer argued that the authorities had no constitutional basis for imposing the curfew.

Despite the ruling, Pépin's lawyer has stated that they plan to appeal the decision, asserting that it is evident that the authorities acted without a constitutional basis. The defendants have been ordered to pay a $1,000 fine within six months.

Quebec's Premier, François Legault, implemented curfews on two occasions during the pandemic, with the first lasting for nearly five months and the second during New Year's Eve 2021. Breaking the curfew carried fines ranging from $1,000 to $6,000. It is worth noting that Quebec was the only province in Canada to implement such strict nighttime restrictions during the pandemic.

The court case included testimony from senior Quebec public health officials, who highlighted the exceptional context of the global pandemic. The judge emphasized that the government had a responsibility to plan and provide a reasonable framework for social activities and interactions, which justified the adoption of specific measures such as the curfew.


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