February 25, 2022

As protests begin, Quebec City mayor urges visitors to attend Winter Carnival | CBC News

Quebec City Mayor Bruno Marchand is reassuring residents and visitors to the annual Carnaval de Québec that the city will be safe during weekend protests calling for an end to COVID-19 restrictions.

“It will be secure to be in Quebec City this weekend. It will be a very nice weekend to be here,” Marchand said. He said so far protesters have been “totally respectful.”  

The first demonstrators, travelling mostly in smaller vehicles but with some in large trucks, arrived Thursday night in the area around the National Assembly.

In a Facebook video posted Friday, two organizers, Kevin Grenier and Bernard Gauthier, called for people to gather in front of the assembly at 5 p.m., just as the city’s winter festival gets underway in the same area.

While Grenier said the atmosphere would be “friendly” and “a party” during the carnival, he said protesters will “use another tone” if Premier François Legault does not heed their demands. 

The largest protest is expected Saturday, with more groups arriving from other parts of the province, including a convoy from the Beauce region.

Marchand says everyone has a right to demonstrate but asked protesters to remain civil.

“It’s only the beginning, but I think most of them understand that if you have a cause and you want that cause to be understood, you need to be respectful,” he said. 

“Is honking for hours respectful? The answer is no. Is it tolerable? The answer is no. There are regulations against this. The police will be able to apply them.” 

A Quebec City police cruiser is parked on Honoré-Mercier Boulevard, in front of Bonhomme’s ice palace, one of the venues for the Quebec Winter Carnival. Several streets in the area are closed to vehicle traffic because of the carnival. (Radio-Canada/Erik Chouinard)

‘Lots of tow trucks’ ready, says Legault 

Quebec City police said they had given out 14 tickets by the end of Thursday night, for violations of municipal regulations or road safety laws.

Police allowed trucks to park in one lane along René-Lévesque Boulevard but made the bulk of vehicles circulate, rather than allowing them to block traffic. 

Marchand said this was to allow protesters to express themselves while still maintaining order. 

“It’s a compromise. We left them space because [the trucks] are a symbol that’s important to them,” he said. 

Some streets are also closed to vehicle traffic because of the carnival. Honoré-Mercier Avenue is for pedestrians only, between Grande Allée and René-Lévesque boulevards, as is Grande Allée between de Claire-Fontaine Street and Honoré-Mercier Boulevard. 

WATCH | Legault and Marchand weigh in on protests planned for start of winter carnival: 

People have a right to protest and to attend winter carnival, says Mayor

Premier François Legault and Quebec City Mayor Bruno Marchand want Carnaval de Québec to go ahead as planned in Quebec City despite the festival coinciding with demonstrators protesting against pandemic public-health measures. 0:54

“We won’t tolerate in any way trucks impeding citizens from circulating,” Legault said Friday in Montreal, while making an announcement about the aviation industry. 

Nor, he said, would authorities put up with protesters harassing the public in malls or restaurants, as was the case in Ottawa. 

So far, he said, that hasn’t been happening.

“I want to make sure it stays this way,” Legault said. 

Marchand praised the work of Quebec City police, but hesitated to draw comparisons with Ottawa, were many residents have criticized police for not doing enough to intervene.

“It’s easy to look at it from a distance, but the conditions are different, and we are going through this afterwards,” he said. 

Some protesters told Radio-Canada they intend to stay “as long as it takes” for the government to drop COVID-19 restrictions, including vaccine passports and mask requirements.

Marchand said there was nothing to prevent protesters from showing up many days in a row to protest. He said Quebec City police have plans in place to prevent the prolonged blockades.

Protest and carnival can co-exist, says organizer

The general director of the Quebec Winter Carnival, Mélanie Raymond, believes the protest and the carnival can coexist.

Carnival sites are fenced off, as in other years. As well, visitors aged 13 and up will have to present vaccine passports to enter and must wear a mask if they want to visit the ice palace where Bonhomme, the carnival’s mascot, resides. 

Still, Raymond and many merchants, restaurant owners and hotel operators in Old Quebec City, are concerned about lower turnout this weekend. 

Quebec City police are allowing some large trucks to park along René-Lévesque Boulevard but are telling protesters driving smaller trucks and cars that they must circulate, in order to not block traffic. (Radio-Canada)

“It’s true this is worrying us. However, we are lucky to be operating over the next 10 days, until Feb.13. We’re in the downtown but also in other parts of the city,” said Raymond. 

“We were fully booked,” Marcel Veilleux, the owner of the pub D’Orsay, told Radio-Canada Thursday. “:Since yesterday, we’ve had about 20 to 40 per cent of reservations cancel — particularly people from outside the city who were worried.”

Veilleux is not alone. According to the business development group representing merchants in Old Quebec, half of its members have seen between 10 and 40 per cent of their bookings cancelled.

The city’s mayor says it’s a tough blow for industries that were already hurting from the pandemic and are counting on the revenue from the carnival period. 

“To see cancellations, that breaks my heart,” said Marchand. “We have to be able to encourage our businesses … and show people the city is safe.”

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