Last Saturday, over 40 community members, activists, and mourners gathered at Montreal North’s Henri-Bourassa arena to commemorate the death of Fredy Villanueva at the hands of Montreal police.
The vigil marked six years since Fredy Villanueva, an unarmed 18-year-old, was shot by Service de police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM) officer Jean-Loup Lapointe after police approached Villanueva and his friends while they were playing an illegal game of dice. Neither Villanueva, nor those he was with at the time – his brother and friends – were armed.
Villanueva’s murder continued a longstanding tendency toward racial profiling on the part of the SPVM, particularly within the Montreal North area, which is home to various racialized communities.
“I came here to contain my anger,” Monique, an attendant at the vigil, told The Daily in French. “Because I am a mother of three, a grandmother of three – I am an educator, a social worker [intervenant social], I am of African descent. […] There are these historic elements that have made it so the police shoot at us.”
Multiple families were present at the vigil, which began before dusk with a candlelit memorial standing alongside soccer games in the adjacent park. The vigil took place at the spot where Villaneuva died, in the parking lot of the arena. Small children and adults wrote in chalk on the ground next to the memorial, tracing out names, small messages, and drawings.
Nearby, two SPVM officers watched from their bikes – a source of frustration for some, such as one man who stated that the “surveillance” was unwelcome.
“There hasn’t been justice. There isn’t justice.”
Alex Popovic, from the Coalition against Repression and Abuse by Police, spoke to denounce the City of Montreal’s failure to implement the recommendations given in the coroner’s report regarding the case. The 2013 report recommended the creation of an action plan to fight poverty and social exclusion in Montreal North.
“How can we move on when we know that the City of Montreal and the Montreal North borough have both decided not to follow up on [the coroner’s recommendation]?” Popovic told the gathering in French. “The City of Montreal’s nonchalance is all the more aberrant when we recall that [Montreal mayor] Denis Coderre has represented Montreal North’s citizens at the federal parliament for 16 years before becoming mayor. Were I in his position, I would be very ashamed of having turned my back on [this community].”
“But in spite of the impatience and frustration that we sometimes feel, we remain determined to go give it our all for justice for Fredy Villanueva,” added Popovic.
The vigil had the air of a small community gathering, attracting fewer people than the vigils for Villanueva in years past. Some there were family, others activists, and many came in solidarity, such as one family residing in Rosemont, who didn’t know Villanueva before he died, but have been coming to the vigils for the past six years.
“You’re asking if the criminals have been sentenced, indicted – if there has been justice? No,” one member of the family said in Spanish, responding to a question posed by The Daily. “The police killed [him] in cold blood. Because this is what they wanted – to shoot a bullet at a boy who didn’t have a gun, who didn’t have anything.”
“Because me, I can’t kill a person just because I have some sort of quarrel, or because of profanity. I can’t even hit them, let alone take a gun – [a gun that is] supposed to ‘maintain order.’”
“There hasn’t been justice,” he said. “There isn’t justice.”
While Lapointe, the officer who shot Fredy Villanueva, has been cleared of any responsibility and has faced little consequence for his actions, the coroner’s report found ‘human error’ in multiple aspects of Villanueva’s death. The report recommended multifaceted reforms at the SPVM, including giving police officers training for the appropriate use of force, and training in dealing with racialized groups with a history of being unjustly targeted.
Monique, reflecting on the time since Villanueva’s death, spoke to continuing institutional racism on the part of police.
“Our children, our grandchildren, are subject to be confined in one way or another,” she said. “And that will continue until their death.”