Shop owners along Notre-Dame St. in the Old Port were busy sweeping glass from the sidewalk Monday morning after an anti-curfew demonstration on Sunday night escalated into a riot.
“Last night I was home, 9:30 at night, and the concierge, she calls me and she goes ‘they just smashed through the window’ so I rushed downtown… and I saw the damage, it was a disaster,” said Frank Passa, the owner of Ristorante Quattro located near St-Laurent Blvd. He hadn’t been aware of the protest.
On Sunday, Montreal’s curfew was moved back to 8 p.m., just a few weeks after it had been changed to 9:30 p.m., resulting in a protest that began with people dancing to loud music, chanting anti-Legault slogans, and calling for “freedom for the young.”
The seemingly festive tone eventually turned sour when people lit fireworks and set fire to trash in Place Jacques Cartier. The Montreal police riot squad was deployed and used tear gas to clear the square, sending dozens of people into the streets of the Old Port. They set fire to trash cans, destroyed city benches and smashed shop windows.
According to a preliminary review by the Montreal police, seven people were arrested, 107 tickets were given out related to public health rules and several cases of arson, mischief and breaking and entering were recorded.
Several shop owners were able to have their windows replaced overnight or early Monday morning, leaving no trace of the attacks other than shattered glass on the sidewalk and a sense of camaraderie among those who were targeted, all of whom have been struggling to survive the pandemic.
“Already it’s hard, business,” said Passa. “We’re closed and everything, and now it’s going to cost me another $2,000.”
One of the windows at Ristorante Quattro was still boarded up late Monday morning. Passa said he might keep it that way for the time being since he heard a rumour that there may be another protest at night.
Both Passa and his neighbour, Moshe Simhon, who owns NRJ Jeans, found metal no-parking signs inside their businesses.
“They threw the city sign, they threw it inside and they smashed the window,” said Simhon, who was on the phone with his insurance company on Monday morning. “They took jeans, they took watches, they took three coats.”
Katia Ohayon, the owner of Sandrini, a shoe store located across the street from Simhon and Passa’s businesses, said Sunday night’s events seemed to come out of nowhere. Her store was also broken into and various items were stolen.
“Usually when there’s something going on we hear that it’s going to happen, we kind of call each other, we warn each other,” she said. “This time, it was totally out of control. There was no police presence, or if there was they were all concentrated in one area.”
At a news conference on Monday morning, Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante described the vandalism as ‘unacceptable’ and defended the police response to the situation.
“Everything happened within a two-hour period and when things escalate, they escalate quickly,” she said. “Police were in place and monitoring things closely. Sometimes if police move too quickly it can lead to further escalation, like putting oil on a fire.”
Plante acknowledged the right to protest, “But it has to be down within the rules…to smash the windows of stores and restaurants while the owners are already on their knees because the past year has been tough? I find it unacceptable.”
She added that city crews would begin cleaning up the damage and invited Montrealers to support businesses by visiting the Old Port. On Monday, workers were seen exchanging the metal no-parking posts that had been thrown through windows with plastic signs secured to parking meters.
“They’re picking up all those steel no-parking signs, because they’re expecting another protest tonight,” Passa said.
Quebec Public Security Minister Geneviève Guilbault used social media to thank Montreal police for their intervention, saying the incidents “cannot be tolerated.”
“We have the right to express our disagreements, but we must do so while respecting the health regulations in effect,” she tweeted.
Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé said that a Google study of the curfew has shown that people moved around less during curfew and, as a result, reduced their contacts.
“What do we have to do with curfew and Legault?” Ohayon said. “We have been suffering like hell to survive our businesses. What do we have to do with it? We’re victims like everyone else.”
Hold tight, Dubé says as Montreal's earlier curfew met with protest and rioting
Curfew at 8 p.m. in Montreal and Laval starting Sunday
With files from The Canadian Press.
This story will be updated.