Last Saturday at 9 p.m., as residents across Quebec sat indoors to obey a new pandemic curfew, the police patrolling the sleepy city of Sherbrooke observed a perhaps unlikely crime: a woman “walking” her boyfriend, attached to a leash, as he padded along the sidewalk on all fours.
Asked by the police why she was breaching curfew, which requires that residents remain indoors between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m., the woman replied that she was merely taking her dog for a walk. After all, dog-walking close to home is one of several activities, along with trips to the pharmacy, exempt from the curfew. The police, unconvinced, slapped the couple with a total of nearly $3,100 in fines.
This week, I called the Sherbrooke Police to confirm the human canine tale, as it reverberated around the world. A police spokesman, Martin Carrier, told me the couple were part of a small movement of protesters across the country who have been chafing under new coronavirus restrictions and putting their own lives and the lives of others at risk.
“It’s discouraging to see that people aren’t taking the rules seriously at a time when hospitals are overwhelmed,” Mr. Carrier said.
Inevitably, the boyfriend-walking story also inspired some attempts at humor and some unfortunate puns. Some mused on Twitter that relationship quirks should be respected. “Completely stunned and amazed that this happened in Canada and not here in the US,” added one American.
The couple are apparently not alone in their revolt. Some people reportedly flouted a lockdown last year in Spain by walking stuffed animals or pet tortoises.
The Quebec incident and others suggest that even in a compliant country like Canada, where we generally embrace rules and defer to scientific authorities, some are losing their patience or rebelling against ennui, even as the pandemic intensifies.
Hundreds of people have taken to the streets in Quebec, Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta in recent weeks. There were several anti-curfew protests across Quebec last weekend — shortly after the curfew was first imposed — and the police handed out 750 tickets across the province, where fines can be as high as $6,000.
While the protests have so far been scattered and relatively small, they nevertheless underline the cognitive dissonance when it comes to the pandemic. A state of denial seems particularly acute in some quarters in Quebec, my fun-loving, extroverted home province, and the pandemic’s epicenter. As of Friday morning, the 8,878 people who have died from Covid-19 in Quebec accounted for more than half of the country’s total 17,538 deaths.
Speaking late last year on the television show “Tout le monde en parle,” Quebec’s health minister, Christian Dubé, blamed a party culture in the majority Francophone province for Quebecers’ resistance to pandemic measures. “I think we have a Latin side,” he said. “We like to party.”
Epidemiologists have cited other factors such as inadequate contact tracing, the Quebec government’s reluctance to shut down businesses and an overly lax attitude when it comes to closing schools.
Quebec is hardly alone in experiencing a coronavirus surge. This week, Ontario, the country’s largest province, also ratcheted up restrictions with a somewhat confusing stay-at-home order. For example, critics point out that while Ontario premier Doug Ford said that people should only go out to buy essential things like groceries and to exercise, the regulations allow all stores to remain open if they use curbside pickup or delivery.
Quebec’s curfew has turned Montreal, a usually swaggering, cosmopolitan city, into a ghost town.
In my bourgeois-bohemian Plateau-Mont-Royal neighborhood, which is brimming with hipster cafes and restaurants, the streets have largely been deserted after 8 p.m., save the sight of dog walkers (leading dogs of the furry variety).
Even before the curfew, over the holidays the usually boisterous neighborhood was eerily quiet. At the state liquor store near my house, people at noon were already lining up to buy champagne on New Year’s Eve. But the mood was somber, and several people in line told me that they planned to spend a quiet night at home, playing board games.
Some Canadians have been finding pandemic solace in pets, a dynamic observed across the world. In New York, applications for fostering pets exploded last spring. In March, during a partial lockdown in Spain, when dog walking was considered an essential outing, one wily man repeatedly tried to rent out his dogs on Facebook so that people could walk them, before being sanctioned by the police.
Many Montrealers seem to be escaping the claustrophobia of confinement and curfew by doing winter sports. On a recent Sunday, dozens of families and friends were tobogganing on the city’s picturesque Beaver Lake. It was heartening to see people having fun but alarming that so many were not obeying social distancing rules.
As for me, I have been escaping my curfew doldrums by going on urban photography safaris and shooting photographs of my neighborhood. I also do some high-octane kettle bell workouts and a cardio video routine that includes Irish dancing.
The pandemic has engendered a certain Hitchcockian voyeurism since we are all stuck at home. I shudder to think what my neighbors across the street must think when they see a 40-something man through their third-floor windows, at eye level with mine, wildly jumping around his apartment.