How often are homeless Montrealers ticketed? A lot, with sharp increase in recent years, study shows
MONTREAL -- How much do homeless Montrealers really need to fear being fined?
This week, in the wake of a homeless man's death while he may have been hiding from police, Quebec Premier François Legault said that when it comes to the province's COVID-19 curfew, he trusts police to use common sense and not ticket the homeless for being out after 8 p.m.
"They won’t give them tickets for fun," he said Thursday. "Their responsibility is to help [the homeless] and guide them to a shelter."
Whether or not they're using those guidelines right now, however, a study released this month from the University of Ottawa shows that Montreal police have, in fact, hugely increased how often they ticket the homeless in recent years.
Homeless Montrealers are getting about 40 per cent of all tickets issued by police, the study found.
The number of fines they're given more than doubled in just three years, from 2014 to 2017.
"In 1994, just to give you an idea, we had 1,000 tickets a year" to the homeless, said Marie-Eve Sylvestre, a dean at the University of Ottawa's law school and one of the researchers behind the study.
Now it's about 9,000 tickets per year, she said.
To study the issue, the researchers used data from Montreal's municipal courts, looking at the addresses people gave. Whenever they used a shelter's address or a rooming house that serves the homeless, they were counted as homeless.
This means many were surely left out of the official count because they had some other address they could use, even if they weren't living there. The researchers said their numbers were "the tip of the iceberg."
The rise holds true proportionally to the general population -- it's not that everyone is simply getting ticketed more.
In that same seven-year stretch, from 2012 to 2019, homeless people went from getting 20 per cent of all tickets to getting 40 per cent.
There's been a clear pattern when Indigenous people are involved, as well. From 2012 to 2018, the number of tickets given to Indigenous homeless people rose five-fold.
"Without homes or safe spaces, the police continue to surveil and profile Indigenous individuals who have little choice other than using public spaces due to poverty and homelessness," said the First People's Justice Center of Montreal in a statement Thursday.
First Nations have endured "multiple forced displacements" throughout history, the group said, and argued that "removing people from parks and public spaces is a remnant of this larger historical pattern."
For all homeless people, most of the tickets were given out for substance-related offences, like drinking in public, with a much smaller number for loitering or obstructing traffic.
Transit police have actually given out a decreasing number of fines to the homeless in recent years, the study showed.
The man who died this week, 51-year-old Raphael Andre, was Innu and had been spending most days at the Open Door shelter on Parc Ave. However, the shelter had been asked by public health to close each night at 9:30 p.m. after a COVID-19 outbreak there.
Andre's body was found the next morning, frozen, in a portable toilet nearby.
Watch the video above to see Sylvestre discuss her findings.