Quebec curfew harms intravenous drug users, advocates argue in court

A Montreal harm reduction group has mounted a legal challenge to Quebec’s curfew, arguing it puts intravenous drug users at risk.

“The curfew doesn’t have benefits for all the population,” said Chantal Montmorency from AQPSUD, the Association québécoise pour la promotion de la santé des personnes utilisatrices de drogues, which advocates for and represents people who use drugs.

Their lawyer, Sibel Ataogul, presented her arguments to the judge Thursday morning by videoconference.

Montmorency said the organization has worked in public health for 10 years and knows how to prevent the spread of infection.

“We know harm reduction. We know how to prevent the propagation of viruses,” she said. “That’s all we do and we know the curfew isn’t a harm reduction measure.”

AQPSUD is calling for an emergency injunction to stop the curfew in Montreal, Gatineau and Quebec City, arguing the curfew violates the rights of safe injection site users and causes harm.

In addition, Ataogul argued in court that there’s no direct proof linking the curfew to a reduction in the transmission of COVID-19.

Earlier this year, a judge ruled homeless people would not have to abide by the curfew, determining it discriminates and disproportionately harms them.

And while there is already an exemption to the curfew for those who use safe injection sites, they have to carry a letter from the local health authority.

In reality, that doesn’t work, said Montmorency.

“When you show this authorization, it tells [them] that you are going to use drugs, so it tells the police that you probably have drugs on you. So they can just check and get you on simple possession,” she said.

They say many are opting to stay home instead and use alone, and they argue that’s led to a surge in overdoses.

A curfew forces a change in routine for some drug users, which can lead them to take more drugs before 9:30 p.m. Many dealers aren’t selling after curfew, she added, so people will go to strangers and are more likely to get contaminated drugs.

Jean-Francois Mary of needle exchange program and safe injection site Cactus said he has seen these issues firsthand.

Early on in the pandemic, the group’s needle exchange service went from 3,000 visits a month to less than 1,500. People adjusted to the measures and exchanges went back up to about 80 per cent, said Mary, but with the curfew, he saw numbers drop again, and as many as half haven’t come back.

“People have adapted to all the other measures but with the curfew on top of it, it was just too much,” he said.

Cactus is seeing overdoses at a rate four to five times higher than before the pandemic.

“Overdoses are almost a daily occurrence in our services right now,” he said.

His main concern is that users aren’t able to access clean needles and equipment.

“To me, that’s the biggest worry, because this is long-term health issues for people and a major population public health issue,” he said.

He’s anticipating a surge in cases of HIV and Hepatitis C in the months to come.

The government’s legal counsel argued there was no proof an increase in overdoses is linked to the curfew.

The judge is expected to render his decision Friday afternoon.