News that Quebec’s former top doctor Horracio Arruda had scrambled to find studies justifying the province’s latest curfew earned scathing reactions from all of Quebec’s opposition party leaders.

Radio Canada reported Wednesday that Arruda’s assistant had emailed the province’s public health institute’s Associate VP for Scientific Affairs and the Senior Strategic Medical Advisor for Public Health asking for evidence to back the curfew at 10:31am on Dec. 30. 

That was six hours before Premier François Legault announced he was reimposing a province-wide curfew to deal with the rise in cases led by the Omicron variant.

Arruda recommended the government reimpose a curfew on Dec 29. However, he did not provide material to justify his recommendation.

In the French emails to public health experts, his assistant wrote, “Horacio would like you and your teams to provide him with an argument in connection to the curfew in anticipation of reporters’ questions at the 5pm press conference.”

The assistant wrote that Arruda wanted to know two things –  “1) What are the studies? 2) What is being done elsewhere?” 

They were asked to provide this information in a tight argument.

Arruda’s office heard back from Quebec’s public health institute’s Associate VP for Scientific Affairs, Éric Litvak, at 2:36pm – less than three hours before the press conference. 

In his response, Litvak stated that “on the INSPQ side, we do not have an existing analysis that specifically addresses the curfew and unfortunately we are unable to produce one today with such short notice.”

Quebec’s Liberal Opposition Leader Dominique Anglade, who has been critical of Legault’s pandemic response, called the story “scandalous.” 

Anglade added that if justifying the curfew was a charade, then government contracts may be too.

Parti Québécois Leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon reacted to the news by denouncing what he called “a public health subordinated to the interests of politics, a government…without transparency or accountability, and politicians lacking integrity”.

Manon Massé, co-leader of the far-left Quebec Solidaire stated that “measures that are not based on science are political measures.” She added, “(h)ow many other decisions like this are hiding in François Legault’s closet?”

Conservative Party of Quebec leader Éric Duhaime also reacted to the news, stating that it “possibly demonstrates how the decision was purely political and that public health was the foil to cover the decisions of François Legault with a scientific veneer.”

Legault’s chief of staff Martin Kosikinen responded to the criticism on Twitter. 

“Do you think that a curfew pays off electorally?” he asked. “If so, your political career will be short.” 

He added that curfew was a recommendation of public health.

However, Quebec’s public health institute did not have an existing analysis specifically addressing the curfew. An access to information request in February also revealed the INSPQ had “no documents” justifying the curfews. 

It should also be noted that the curfew was opposed by prominent health experts in the province, including Montreal’s public health director Dr. Mylène Drouin. 

Drouin told the Quebec government back in Dec. 2021 that she opposed bringing back the curfew, citing concerns about its impact on vulnerable populations.

Arruda ended up stepping down days after the curfew announcement, stating in his resignation letter that he felt criticisms of his positions had led to an erosion of public trust.

Quebec imposed some of the harshest public health restrictions in the Western world in response to the Omicron variant. On top of the curfew, restrictions included lockdowns, bans on gatherings and vaccine mandates that limited access to groceries.  

The Quebec government has since opted to lift most restrictions, however, including most limits on gatherings and a gradual phasing out of the vaccine passport

Legault also announced Wednesday that he would lift the mask mandate in indoor public settings by mid-April, except for public transit, where he said that masks will still be mandatory until May at the earliest.

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