Last Thursday, a seemingly normal day in Montreal, was tinged with sadness for Montrealers. Not a date of remembrance for a past tragedy or the like, rather, May 26th heralded a major, dark change in the Montreal lifestyle, one nobody was really looking forward to: the banning of smoking on terrasses.
A Quebec-wide prohibition otherwise known as Bill 44 or simply the "smoking on terrasses ban", Thursday marked the first day in which this regulation would be enforced. Already angry with the province's decision regarding the smoking ban, Montrealers looked to the upcoming weekend with apprehension, fearful their beloved terrasses would now be devoid of the simple pleasure of a cigarette.
Except nothing changed.
Walking along Mont-Royal this morning, heading to work, I was somewhat surprised to see street cleaners sweeping up cigarette butts all around bars along the street. Looking a little bit closer, I noticed that these cigarette butts weren't simply around the exterior of the bars, they were on the terrasses themselves.
It pretty much looked like everyone was smoking on every terrasse I passed on Mont-Royal, none paying heed to what is supposed to be an official ban on the practice.
Just Another Weekend In Montreal
Then I looked back to my weekend. Once Friday hit, all memory of the work-week disappeared (you need to repress all that), as did any knowledge I had of the smoking ban. I didn't give two thoughts toward the terrasse-ban during my weekend, and apparently all of Montreal did the same.
From Friday night to Sunday evening, I can distinctly remember seeing Montrealers actively (and rather brazenly) smoking on terrasses at bars I was drinking at and those nearby. To be fair, my weekend-experiences were limited to the Plateau-area, but then I talked to a few friends and colleagues about their experiences.
The conclusion: from NDG to Rosemont to the Mile End, and seemingly beyond, no one gave a single f*ck about the terrasse-ban.
Even on a street like Prince Arthur, with cops parked along pedestrian walkway (as they always are on the weekend) could lit cigarettes be seen on terrasses. No police officer intervened to correct the practice and no Montrealer really tried to accommodate the new law.
At best, patrons of a bar would simply get out of their seat, walk around to the boundary of the terrasse and simply smoked there. While some effort was made, such smokers were effectively still smoking on the terrasse, and probably just tossed their butts onto the street instead of an ashtray on a table.
Basically, Thursday to Sunday was simply another weekend in Montreal, smoking ban be damned. And here we were a week ago, fearful of a minimum $250 fine for simply smoking on an outdoor terrasse, something that's been done in Montreal for countless years.
Apparently a new provincial law won't break tradition, though, because like already said, Montreal didn't really pay attention to Bill 44 this weekend. Next weekend will probably be the same.
The Problem: No One Knows What's Going On
Now, to be honest, I'm not a cigarette smoker, so I didn't really care too much about the terrasse-ban. But since it's my job to write about such things (and I did), friends who were a tad bit concerned about getting slapped with fines asked me about the specifics before Bill 44 was put into effect.
Who will be handing out fines? Will all restaurants and bars be enforcing the new rule? Do I have to watch out for cops? All are questions I was asked, queries other Montrealers surely had last week and before the onset of the weekend.
But the thing is, I had no clue what the answers were, and apparently neither did anyone else, restaurants included.
Speaking to CBC, the Association des restaurateurs du Québec blatantly said that they received next to no information on the new law, stating they had no clue what the ban really entails. Restaurant-owners were similarly in the dark, unaware if they should be forcing smokers off their terrasse or warning them of fines.
Inspectors from Quebec's Health Ministry are supposed to be heading to establishments and dole out smoking fines, though no specifics of where/when were really provided (and given the sheer amount of terrasses in Montreal, the warning even seems like something of an empty threat).
So, like any business operator who wants to please their clients would, bar and restaurants just let Montrealers continue smoking on their terrasses. It's not that surprising either, given that they weren't really told how to enforce Bill 44.
One would assume that the SPVM would be the next logical organization that would be enforcing the provincial prohibition, but even they aren't required to do anything. It's up to the municipality to decide whether or not they want local police officers to hand out tickets for smoking on terrasses. And if this weekend is any indicator, it seems like Montreal police officers aren't going to do be sticklers for smoking.
Provincial, Quebec police can hand out tickets all they want, but how often do you see them in Montreal? Exactly.
Why Nothing Will Probably Even Change
All across the board, from regular Montrealers to bar/restaurant-operators to the police force, no one in Montreal seems to really be acknowledging Bill 44, at least when it comes to terrasses. So even though smoking on terrasses is banned in Montreal, it's not really banned. A law is only a law if people follow it, after all.
The city's lax attitude towards Bill 44 could change in a rather short time, of course, as when people get slapped with (if some haven't already received) heavy fines it may deter others from smoking on terrasses. Provincial police and health inspectors may step in and take a more active role to squash terrasse-smoking, too.
It doesn't seem all that likely, though, since tourist-season is on the horizon in Montreal.
Grand Prix and MURAL are only days away, then there's Jazz Fest, JFL, and more as the summer continues, all of which will bring in tons of money-spending tourists, many of whom have probably attended such festivals in the past.
Coming into the city, they will probably be entirely unaware of the terrasse-ban and continue smoking like they used to. And something tells me Montreal won't be hitting tourists who provide a significant boost to the local economy with a bunch of fines. Not that a tourist would pay a fine to Quebec if they're leaving the province anyway.
So on paper, things are different for smokers in Montreal. In practice, it seems like nothing has changed. Lets hope it stays that way.