MONTREAL -- The spectacular and unusual images of deserted city centres around the world have been spread across social media. This calm and absence of witnesses on the commercial arteries, however, has had the undesirable effect of bringing vandals and thieves out of their confinement.

As of April 24, the Quebec City police (SPVQ) measured a 50 per cent increase in break and enters and theft from businesses, compared to the same date last year. There were 48 reports compared to 32 in 2019.

The president of the Regroupement des societes de developpement commercial (SDC) of Quebec, Jean-Pierre Bedard, who is also general manager of the SDC Montcalm in Quebec, spoke about the phenomenon.

“We were informed of misdeeds on our commercial arteries and quickly made a request for intervention to increase the presence of patrols,” he said, adding that the sector of Old Quebec seemed to be particularly prized by burglars.

Cafes, convenience stores, jewellery stores and other businesses were reportedly targeted. However, it seems that the police presence had the expected effect, according to Bedard who is delighted to have been able to limit the damage.

“Our businesses are already in great difficulty because of the pandemic, we especially do not need that extra grief,” he said, adding that windows have also been smashed by vandals.


Montreal police (SPVM) were not yet able to provide precise data on the crimes reported in April, but several SDCs in the city testify that the perpetrators are not all in isolation.

In the Vieux-Rosemont sector, a burglary at Les Des Branches restaurant and bar sounded the alarm at the SDC Promenade Masson, which hired its own private patrol service.

“We have 90 businesses closed out of a total of 140, so we said that we had to put in place a security device to avoid these events,” explained SDC director general Kheir Djaghri.

Since April 3, a private patrol car has been circulating along Promenade Masson, from evening to morning, with the agreement of the SPVM. No other thefts were reported, but two attempted break and enters were reported.

At least seven crimes against businesses have also been committed in the Saint-Henri borough. They were cases of shattered windows and vandalized doors.

To help its members, the SDC Les Quartiers du Canal has a support fund that offers financial assistance to clean and secure premises and replace broken windows.

At the Montreal SDC Association, President Billy Walsh maintains that he was not informed of a major increase in thefts, but rather in misdemeanours. Graffiti artists have been active in several Montreal boroughs.

“The streets are less busy, so it's more conducive for businesses to be the object of mischief,” he said.

 At the SDC Destination centre-ville, which covers the entertainment district and the international district, there was no mention of incidents on businesses, but instructions were sent to “leave nothing of value on display, and inside the store, leave the cash drawers open and empty to deter potential thieves.”


From the start of the health crisis and containment measures, Ottawa Police (OPS) have noticed a strong upward trend in break and enter and theft from businesses.

In a news release issued on April 9, there was already a 70 per cent increase in the number of break and enters from the previous month, including residences and businesses.

Numerous people have been arrested since, including one over the weekend for two break and enters and burglaries dating back to April 8 in businesses in downtown Ottawa.

Notices have been repeated several times by the authorities in order to advise retailers not to leave money on location. The same instruction was given to citizens to lock vehicle doors and leave no valuables inside.

According to OPS spokesperson Martin Dompierre, a large population of homeless people in the city centre is struggling with drug addiction issues.

“They didn’t stop using because of COVID-19, '' he said. “And to consume, you need money.”


This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 2, 2020.