Quebec has been deconfining its population for a few weeks. Vaccination is progressing, restaurants are reopening and gatherings are gradually becoming authorized again. Yet the Quebec government still refuses to end the state of emergency!
The state of emergency has long-term adverse effects
The state of health emergency results in an intense concentration of power in the hands of the government and its crisis management team. It gives the government broad discretionary powers that should be used with caution and exceptionally in a democratic society like Quebec. This state of exception is intended for an exceptional situation. It does not allow the Quebec government to bypass democratic processes by acting in an authoritarian manner.
While the legitimacy of having health measures is not in question, the suspension of accountability mechanisms has serious consequences for rights and freedoms.
The effects of the extension of the state of health emergency are making our democracy sick and extend beyond the restricted circle of the National Assembly; we need only think of municipal councils such as those of Saint-Eustache, Saint-Sauveur, Fortierville or Deux-Montagnes and others that are still sitting behind closed doors to this day, while theatres and arenas have resumed their activities in compliance with health measures. Think also of the decrees and orders passed since March 2020, which are being used to override workers’ collective agreements in order to address the labour shortages in the health care system that existed before the pandemic.
The health of our democratic institutions must be restored
It is now time for democratic debates on the management of the crisis to resume and for citizens to be heard on this issue. Quebec, like other societies, will enter a “new normal”. To address this, it is necessary to hold a collective discussion, with the participation of the whole of civil society, and not for this “normality” to be decided behind the closed doors of power. It is now the turn of democracy to be deconfined.
The health measures have not been debated in the House for months and this promises to continue with the adjournment of the National Assembly.
The people of Quebec have the right to know why the measures were adopted during the pandemic and to express their opinion on the effects of these measures.
They also have the right to demand that the Quebec government be transparent in its decisions. Should we go so far as to ask for a public commission of enquiry into the management of the pandemic?
The state of emergency, which was useful at the beginning of the pandemic, must be lifted immediately. To continue to fight the pandemic, the Quebec government knows very well that it has other means, such as concluding temporary agreements with the unions or professional orders. No need for a state of emergency!
On May 26, the Ligue des droits et libertés (LDL) posted a statement on its website liguedesdroits.ca demanding the lifting of the state of emergency, which was supported by some sixty civil society organisations representing several hundred thousand people. With the adjournment of the National Assembly, the Quebec government has missed a great opportunity to end the state of emergency. Today, the LDL repeats its demand: the state of emergency in Quebec must be ended, and now!