2021 Year in Review: January

A year once again dominated by COVID also gave room to many other important stories

As quickly as 2020 came and went, so did 2021. While many saw the second year of a new decade as a mere continuation of the first, with COVID-19 still affecting all aspects of life, many other issues important to the Park Extension community came to the forefront of public discourse.

2021 was the year the pandemic continued to impose hardship on Quebecers, the year of both a federal and a municipal election and the year where many local issues were on the minds of people in Park Extension. 

Over the next three weeks, Nouvelles Parc-Extension News will outline some of the major stories that affected residents over the past year. This edition will cover the first four months of the year from January to April, marked by a curfew, citizen movements and protests, a continued housing crisis and the rollout of Québecs’ vaccination campaign.

Curfew and lockdowns

It did not take long at the start of the new year to realize that although 2020 was coming to a close, the COVID-19 pandemic and all of its hardships would be following us into 2021. 

On Jan. 7, 2021, Premier François Legault announced the implementation of strict province-wide health measures, including a controversial curfew, the shuttering of all non-essential businesses and continued restrictions in elementary and secondary schools.

“We are in a race against time,” the premier said at the time, adding that “unfortunately, we seem to be losing the race right now.” Lockdown measures were called “shock therapy” by the premier and included a province-wide curfew from 8 PM to 5 AM, subsequently left in place until May 28, over 4 months later.

The provincial measures were followed by a series of federal restrictions on travellers which included the requirement of a negative PCR for all people arriving in Canada, as well as an obligatory 14 day quarantine period. 

Tense situation in Montreal hospitals

These new measures were a response to the escalating COVID-19 situation in cities like Montreal and the increasingly critical lack of hospital beds. Dr. Sonia Bélanger, a senior public health official, said in January that the situation in Montreal was “extremely tense,” adding that staffing shortages were exacerbating the problem. 

“It’s great to have extra beds, but we have to have the ability to staff those beds,” Bélanger said, adding that around 1,000 healthcare workers were absent at the time, either because they had COVID-19 or were awaiting test results. One year later, Montreal hospitals continue to see shortages of dedicated COVID-19 beds and the workers needed to staff them. 

Demand for social housing

As the pandemic continued across the country, many secondary effects continued to be felt in Park Extension. One such effect was the continued lack of affordable and sanitary housing in the neighbourhood, with many analysts pointing to Park Ex as a rapidly gentrifying area.

Residents and activist groups continued to petition the municipal government to do more about the issue and construct more social housing. On the other hand, city councillor for Park Extension Mary Deros came out in January to say that people needed to point the finger elsewhere, notably at the provincial and federal government who she claimed were dithering on their engagements.

“The federal and provincial governments have not up to now come up with any financing to develop these buildings – and not just these buildings, but in general most social housing in Montreal,” she stated at the time. Plaza Hutchinson has still yet to be developed into social housing.

Activists in Park Extension demanding that more be done to create social housing in the neighbourhood. Photo: CAPE

Mamadi III Fara Camara

Park Extension was brought to the center of national attention at the very end of the month when an attack on local police officer Sanjay Vig resulted in the wrongful arrest and detainment of Mamadi III Fara Camara, a black Ph.D. student. 

On the evening of Jan. 28, Camara was stopped by police and issued a $500 ticket for using a cellphone while driving. During the intervention officer Vig was hit over the head before having his gun stolen and shot at by an assailant.

Camara was arrested later that day and detained without charges for another 6 days before footage provided by Transport Québec exonerated him from the crime. This put the SPVM under severe scrutiny, with many accusing the police officer and the department of racial profiling. 

The SPVM apologized to Camara for the issue but was later found by a judge to not have been motivated by racial prejudice. A report by Superior Court Judge Louis Dionne published in September indicated that Camara “was not subjected to differential treatment based on race, skin colour or ethnic origin.”

In March, ​​21-year-old Ali Ngarukiye was arrested in Toronto in connection with the incident and charged with attempted murder. His case is still before the courts. 

Mamadi III Fara Camara recounting his experience of wrongful arrest and detention on Radio-Canadas’ Tout le Monde en Parle in March. Photo: Radio-Canada