Thousands Dance Together in Protest of Legault’s COVID-19 Nightlife Restrictions

Demonstrators dance at the Open Dancefloors protest in Montreal, Quebec October 23, 2021. ROBYN BELL/The Concordian

Employees of Montreal’s nightlife scene gathered at Mount Royal to protest the Quebec government’s continuing tight grip on the industry

On Saturday, Oct. 23, thousands of Montrealers danced the day away to protest Quebec Premier François Legault’s handling of the city’s nightclubs. The event was hosted by The Social Dance Coalition, welcoming frustrated nightlife employees and local party lovers alike.

As stadiums, restaurants, and bars see their restrictions loosened by the government, employees of Montreal’s famous nightlife scene are not seeing the same prosperity. On Nov. 1, bars and restaurants will have their capacity restrictions lifted, and alcohol will be sold until 3:00 a.m. The Bell Centre has also been permitted to reopen at full capacity. However, nightclubs have not been given the same grace, leading workers to take to the streets.

The Social Dance Coalition had originally planned the event to span from 2:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m., but Montreal police made the group shorten it by two hours. The protest took place in Jeanne-Mance Park, right by the Monument to Sir George-Étienne Cartier, where the primary objective was to dance free of any restrictions.

Several DJ booths were set up, swarmed by crowds of sweaty dancers looking to have the time of their lives. Out of hundreds of protesters, only a few wore masks. While there were barely any surgical-style masks visible, several protesters dawned Guy Fawkes masks instead; they are popular symbols of anarchism and government defiance. Signs saying “Laissez-Moi Danser (Let Me Dance)” were all over the park, and some dancers brought a selection of raised fist and anarchist flags. The protesters were crammed into mosh pits like sardines, chanting to the beat of early 2010s electronic dance music. The smell of sickeningly sweet liquor and cannabis filled the air as partygoers blew smoke into each others’ faces, while the temperature stood at around 9 C.

“Before the pandemic, I worked in a couple clubs downtown,” said protester Sara, who requested to not disclose her last name. “Now they really suck! If you can even get in, you’re forced to stick to your table. It’s like we can’t have fun anymore. I feel like we’re in Footloose.”

Another protester, Karl, who refused to share his last name as well, had some more colourful words for the premier: “You know what? F*ck Legault. All we want to do is go out and party like normal people, but he won’t let us. We’re vaccinated, just let us in the f*cking clubs already, my God.”

A fully masked SPVM Officer, who remained anonymous, was one of many police officers surveilling the event:

“We’re about twenty officers patrolling the protest. The party is supposed to end soon, but the park officially closes at 11:00 p.m. A lot of these guys are out of the job, so they might stay. We’ll make sure that they won’t be here past closing.”

When asked whether or not they thought this protest would affect policy decisions in Quebec City, about five officers began chuckling.

As of late October, the fourth wave of coronavirus continues to make its way across Quebec. Although it may be less dire than in other provinces, numbers are swiftly on the rise. The number of hospitalizations is increasing ever so slowly as well. The provincial government’s explanation for its hesitancy surrounding reopening the nightclubs and karaoke bars is that it is waiting for COVID-19 numbers to drop significantly. Many of the protesters who have worked in the nightlife industry remain unemployed, seeing as the industry’s drastic reduction resulted in an equally reduced workforce. The economic factors pushing many workers to take to the streets and dance in defiance of restrictions are hitting them hard.

While the debate still rages regarding the balance between a return to nightlife normalcy and security concerns, the rager in the park went on for hours —  with dancing protesters having the time of their lives.

Photos courtesy of Robyn Bell

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