Editorial: As days lengthen, 8 p.m. curfew is too early

A man enjoys a quiet moment alone along the shore of Lac St. Louis in Montreal on Wednesday, April 7, 2021.

When the Legault government introduced the 8 p.m. curfew in early January, we were still in the throes of winter. Darkness came early, and outdoor activities were considerably less alluring. At the time, it was explained the measure was necessary in order to curb illicit gatherings; enforcement was easier if police could just look for people outdoors rather than having to enter private residences. It was also a form of shock therapy, to bring home the pandemic’s gravity to those bending the rules.

In mid-March, as daylight was beginning to extend into the evening, the government sensibly changed the curfew start time to 9:30 p.m. Longer days, warmer weather and sidewalks free of ice meant more people were wanting to exercise outdoors, and to do so later. So long as people followed the rules about social distancing and took other sensible precautions, this was to the applauded. Exercise is good for both physical and mental health. And being able to go for a socially distanced walk with a friend, or visit a park — and be outdoors, where the risk of contagion is much less than in indoor spaces — provided a safer alternative to clandestine indoor gatherings.

But then, less than a month later, in reaction to fears that the spread of variants could take off in Montreal and Laval, the curfew start was moved back to 8 p.m. in those cities as a “precaution,” as well as in certain pandemic hot spots. That is a time that for many people does not allow sufficient opportunity to enjoy the outdoors after work.

While there is every reason to be concerned about the spread of the more-contagious variants, in the absence of a more comprehensive circuit-breaker lockdown, lengthening the curfew does not make sense, and particularly not in Montreal and Laval, where many people live in apartments and do not have access to private green space. And while the government has gone to great lengths to keep schools open, despite the risks, partly in order to maintain students’ mental health, it seems oblivious to the mental-health impact of the curfew.

The anti-curfew window-smashing hoodlums who wreaked havoc in Old Montreal Sunday night should be penalized with the full force of the law. But their frustration is shared by a good many law-abiding citizens.

This pandemic is far from over, and we each still have to do our part: get vaccinated when eligible, avoid gatherings, follow the rules. But those rules should make sense. The curfew’s utility is debatable. If we need to have one, let it at least start at 9:30 p.m.

  1. Montreal police stop to check the status of a woman walking after the start of the curfew on Friday, March 12, 2021.

    Reminder: Curfew at 8 p.m. in Montreal and Laval starting Sunday

  2. Montreal public health director Dr. Myléne Drouin speaks to reporters in Montreal Thursday March 18, 2021.

    Drouin hoping latest restrictions will help Montreal avoid lockdown

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