Old Montreal business owners frustrated by damage done during anti-curfew riot

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Business owners in Old Montreal are surveying the damage after their storefronts were ransacked during a Sunday night anti-curfew protest that turned into a riot.

Daniel Loureiro, co-owner of Helena restaurant in Old Montreal, holds the trash can lid someone tossed through the building’s front window Sunday night. (Kate McKenna/CBC)

Business owners in Old Montreal, already struggling under public health restrictions, spent Monday morning patching up their shattered storefronts after being targeted by anti-curfew rioters the night before.

Daniel Loureiro, who owns Helena restaurant on Notre-Dame Street West with his mother, says life was stressful enough without the fear of vandalism. Along with plummeting sales, he is caring for an 11-week-old baby boy.

Loureiro says he broke into tears when he arrived at his restaurant Sunday night, after hearing it had been damaged.

“Protest all you want, but don’t do this to small businesses. People are suffering. We’re suffering. We put all our money in our businesses,” he said Monday morning as he cleaned up debris outside his restaurant.

The riot, which left dozens of businesses in Old Montreal damaged, began at the end of a peaceful demonstration against an earlier curfew.

Montreal police said dozens of acts of mischief and criminal fires during Sunday’s riot are still under investigation. (Simon-Marc Charron/Radio-Canada)

Several dozen protesters gathered in Jacques-Cartier Square around 7 p.m., then stayed past 8 p.m., defying the government’s stay-at-home order. Police said the crowd size quickly tripled, making it difficult to contain.

As the original crowd began to disperse, small groups set fire to garbage cans and broke storefront windows. Two STM buses were damaged and a bus shelter was also destroyed.

Police made seven arrests and handed out 108 tickets. “An investigation is underway and there could be more arrests,” said Cédric Couture, police chief for the area that covers Old Montreal.

Several business owners, including Loureiro, felt police were under-prepared and took too long to intervene. 

Mayor Valérie Plante defended the police response, saying officers were present from the outset of the protest and wanted to avoid further escalating the situation.

“There’s always a balance to find, because sometimes when police officers act too fast it can put oil on the fire,” Plante said, adding that police will continue to be present at similar events.

She said it was “ridiculous” and “stupid” that people attacked business owners who are already suffering.

Public Security Minister Geneviève Guilbault said she found the riot “extremely shocking” and blamed it on a small group of “troublemakers.”

Critical moment for Quebec

The demonstration was billed as a chance for younger Montrealers to protest the curfew measures. Before it turned violent, the crowd danced to music from loudspeakers, lit fireworks and chanted “Freedom for the young.”

Several of those who took part are active participants of the movement to contest Quebec’s public health measures, and share conspiracy theories on their social media accounts.

Mayor Valérie Plante said it was ‘ridiculous’ and ‘stupid’ for people to have attacked businesses owners who are already suffering. (Annie Deir/CBC)

One of the groups that helped publicize Sunday night’s demonstration issued a statement Monday seeking to distance itself from the rioters and calling for peaceful protests in the future.

Though Quebec’s measures have faced small but steadfast opposition throughout the pandemic, the riot Sunday comes at an especially critical moment for the government.

In an effort to contain the spread of COVID-19 variants, it has introduced sweeping new measures in many parts of the province in recent weeks.

The regions of Quebec City, Chaudière-Appalaches and the Outaouais are on lockdown — schools are online only and non-essential businesses are closed — as spiking case loads risk overwhelming regional hospitals.

Montreal and Laval have so far avoided similar increases. Premier François Legault said the earlier curfew in the two cities was necessary to prevent that from happening.

He also made wearing masks outdoors mandatory in certain situations, such as playing sports, but some have raised concerns his government hasn’t done enough to explain the new measure to the public.

“Yes there are a lot of questions. But asking questions is one thing. Vandalism is another,” Plante said.

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