MONTREAL — The Quebec coroner is investigating the death of a man whose body was found inside a portable toilet early Sunday morning close to a Montreal homeless shelter he frequented.
On Monday, a spokesman for the coroner identified the man as Raphael Andre, 51, and said the investigation will establish his cause of death and the circumstances surrounding it.
Montreal homeless shelter The Open Door said in a Facebook post that Andre, identified by the nickname “Napa”, was a regular and was often the last person to leave the facility.
The Open Door had been operating 24 hours a day, but a COVID-19 outbreak in mid-December and a plumbing issue forced it to suspend its overnight service and to close at 9:30 p.m.
Because of the provincewide curfew that is in effect between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m., people who are not in overnight shelters risk confrontations with police if they are found outside. The Open Door said in its Facebook post that had it been allowed to stay open overnight and operate its warming centre, Andre would not have been left outdoors in the cold.
“When people are in a safe place with support workers watching over them, help can be called when someone is in distress,” the shelter wrote. “Instead, he tragically passed away in a portable toilet. This needs to change.” A spokesperson for the shelter did not return calls seeking comment on Monday.
Montreal’s public health department said in a statement Monday that it issued a recommendation on Jan. 12 supporting the reopening of The Open Door’s warming station. A Montreal health board that oversees the area said the shelter can reopen for overnight service once conditions are met.
“Following an evaluation of the situation, a list of 13 recommendations were submitted to Open Door’s management and board of directors to prevent future outbreaks and to protect the clientele and shelter staff,” the board said in a statement Monday, adding that it was still waiting for the measures to be implemented.
The city’s homeless community has been dealing with numerous outbreaks fuelled by a high rate of community transmission. A plan by local health officials to vaccinate the homeless began on Friday.
Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante offered her condolences regarding the death of Andre and said the city and public health authorities are working to ensure The Open Door’s warming station is able to reopen as soon as possible and in compliance with sanitary measures.
“Each death in these circumstances is one death too many,” Plante said. “This tragic event reaffirms the urgency of providing vulnerable people with resources adapted to the various needs which have been exacerbated by the health crisis.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 18, 2021.
Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press