On October 22, around 100 supporters and activists gathered at the third annual candlelit vigil to commemorate those who have died at the hands of the Quebec and Montreal police.
The vigil was organized by the Justice for the Victims of Police Killings Coalition. The Coalition is composed of the friends, family, and allies of Anas Bennis, Claudio Castagnetta, Ben Matson, Quilem Registre, Gladys Tolley, and Fredy Villanueva, who were all victims of police killings.
Members of the Coalition and survivors of police abuse spoke in front of the headquarters of the Fraternité des policiers et policières de Montréal. Speakers discussed their encounters with police brutality in emotion-filled speeches that stressed the importance of coming together to remember the victims.
A brass band played throughout the vigil to commemorate the dead. In lieu of a minute’s silence, a minute of loud appreciation was held, where the crowd clapped and cheered in recognition of the bravery of the victims and their relatives.
Police presence at the vigil was light, with two police cruisers parked around the corner, and two uniformed officers looking on from a distance.
Several speakers at the vigil argued that there is an endemic injustice in the system of police inquiries, pointing out that, since 1987, only two police officers have been convicted in Montreal.
Bridget Tolley spoke about her mother, Gladys Tolley, who was struck and killed by a Sûreté du Québec police cruiser near her home in 2001.
“This is my fourth year demanding justice and a public inquiry into my mother’s death.”
“The Quebec government should not even be involved when it comes to police [inquiries], they are the employers of the police,” she continued. “Why is it that everywhere else it’s a conflict of interest when this happens, but not here, not to us? If it was me that killed the police, I would be in jail right away.”
“The Quebec government should not even be involved when it comes to police [inquiries], they are the employers of the police. Why is it that everywhere else it’s a conflict of interest when this happens, but not here, not to us? If it was me that killed the police, I would be in jail right away.”
The Quebec government has denied requests from Tolley for an independent inquiry into the circumstances of her mother’s death. The police investigation was carried out by the brother of the officer who struck and killed Gladys Tolley.
In response to allegations of unfairness in police investigations, in March 2013, Quebec’s Ombudsperson Raymonde Saint-Germain gave her approval to Bill 12, which aimed to create an independent police investigation procedure.
While Saint-Germain stated that the bill “strikes a balance between the public interest and respect of the rights of all involved,” detractors say that any consultation of police opinion in such cases amounts to a conflict of interest.
The Coalition contre la Répression et les Abus Policiers – or Coalition Against Police Repression and Abuse – has independently documented a list of people who have died at the hands of the police since 1987 across Canada. In Montreal alone, there are 51 people alleged to have died following a police intervention. The most recent death was that of Abraham Isidore Havis, who died on August 17 after an altercation with police.
Jaggi Singh, a social justice activist, told The Daily that Bill 12 is nonetheless a step in the right direction. “I think recently these [issues] have been catching on. The very fact that the government has been talking about a Commission, beyond the ‘police investigating police,’ is just an example of that. That never would [have] happened without popular pressure.”
“We’re highlighting the fact that the police can act with impunity. The police killings and police brutality show that.”
“What ends up happening is that every incident of police brutality or police killing is seen in isolation,” Singh continued, “or it is seen as something that has specific circumstances and the structural issues are never addressed. So I definitely do think it’s a structural thing.”
Speakers and attendees at the vigil agreed that viewing these acts of police violence in isolation is dangerous.
A young woman, who asked to remain anonymous because she herself is under police investigation, told The Daily in French, “We think these are isolated incidents but they’re not at all. [...] This is the kind of thing you see every day.”
“[The police] work with complete impunity, knowing they’re not filmed. They make arbitrary arrests that are really abusive. These happen every day, yet no one knows about it,” she continued.
“What people in power count on is people’s ability to forget,” said Singh. “What this vigil is about is memory. Remembering who those folks were, that they have stories to share and that they had loved ones and interests in life.”