Already grappling with an outbreak of COVID-19 cases and a lack of suitable shelter space, Montreal’s urban Indigenous community was dealt another blow over the weekend when a Naskapi-Innu man was found dead near a homeless shelter forced to close overnight.
Raphael “Napa” Andre, 51, was a registered member of the community of Matimekush-Lac John in Quebec’s Cote-Nord region.
His body was found Sunday morning inside of a porta potty near The Open Door, a wet shelter catering to the homeless community of the Milton-Parc neighbourhood.
According to a statement from the shelter, Andre was a near-daily client.
The Quebec Coroner’s Bureau is now looking into the case, explaining in an email to APTN News that details of Andre’s death are now subject of an ongoing investigation.
However, it’s believed that Andre died of exposure, as temperatures in Montreal dipped below -10 on Saturday night.
In response to the news, Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador Regional Chief Ghislain Picard is calling on the City of Montreal – and the province of Quebec – to take “immediate action” to prevent similar deaths.
“It’s important to remember the homeless of Montreal – many of them, Indigenous – are facing daily challenges like extreme cold, fear of contracting COVID-19, and the curfew imposed by the Quebec government,” Picard said in a statement posted to Facebook.
Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante, for her part, said Andre’s death was “one too many” within the homeless community.
On Tuesday, Plante held a press conference outside of City Hall to officially petition the Quebec government for additional relief measures – mainly, a curfew exemption for the city’s homeless.
“This request to the government of Quebec doesn’t mean I want people to sleep in the streets – I want people to be in a warm space, a safe space,” Plante specified on Tuesday.
“But if they feel they are not targeted outside, they’re going to feel more secure, and that’s exactly what we want to send as a message,” she added.
Though there are overnight beds available in Montreal, most – if not all – shelters were forced by the pandemic to operate at a reduced capacity.
Many have strict rules regarding substance use.
In just over a week, it’s estimated at least five homeless Montrealers received $1,500 tickets for violating the 8 p.m. curfew
Addressing her critics, Plante said Tuesday there’s nothing more the City of Montreal can do to immediately address the situation.
“[Officials] will tell you that they’ve been working hard to actually make sure we can support them with putting the [Plexiglas] walls, making it clean – that’s what we do at the City of Montreal,” Plante added.
“But I don’t make all the big decisions, I don’t honestly have the money. But I can give space and I can give resources, I can give security, I can get clean-up stuff. That’s what we do.”
“So seriously, in this specific issue – I think the fight or the bureaucracy is not at the city level,” she added.
During his own COVID-19 press briefing held later in the day, Premier Francois Legault made it clear the curfew is “bearing fruit,” and that the government has no intention of making changes now.
Legault says an exemption could prompt other Quebecers to pretend to be homeless to avoid curfew.
“I was told that if we change the decree, there’s a risk that people would use this excuse as a way to walk around the streets after 8 p.m.,” Legault told reporters.
Legault previously said he believes “there are enough beds” to go around.