On October 22, the U.S. National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation, over a hundred people gathered outside the Fraternité des policiers et policières de Montréal (FPPM) building to commemorate those killed as a direct result of police violence. The event was organized by Montreal-based group Justice for the Victims of Police Killings, which is comprised of the families and friends of Anas Bennis, Claudio Castagnetta, Ben Matson, Jean-François Nadreau, Quilem Registre, Gladys Tolley, and Fredy Villanueva, seven individuals who were subject to police brutality in Canada.
Various protests were coordinated throughout the U.S. by the October 22 Coalition to Stop Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation. The coalition has been mobilizing every year since 1996 and serves to remember those who have been victims of violence at the hands of police.
Since 1987, when a teenager named Anthony Griffin was killed in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce (NDG) by police, Montreal has witnessed the deaths of more than sixty people as a result of police violence. The vigil aimed to address all instances of police brutality in Montreal and elsewhere, but focused specifically on the victims whose friends and families were present.
Outside of Laurier metro station, the doors of the FPPM building were lined by police officers. Attendees joined the candlelight vigil to stand in solidarity with the families and friends of the victims.
“It’s sad that this happens every day, that it’s happening somewhere right now.”
Members of organisations such as the Collective Opposed to Police Brutality (COBP), the Coalition Contre la répression et les abus policiers, Solidarity Across Borders (SAB), Quebec Public Interest Research Group (QPIRG) Concordia, Montréal-Nord Républik, and Insurgent Projections were also present at the vigil.
A musician who wished to remain anonymous expressed how it is “important to remember unjust violence targeting, killing people who are marginalized [already.]” This message was echoed by the participants through speeches and spoken word pieces as the demonstration progressed.
Julia Matson, the daughter of Ben Matson, who was beaten to death after a minor confrontation with an off-duty police officer over a parking spot in Vancouver, was one of several who spoke against widespread police violence. She noted, “It’s sad that this happens every day, that it’s happening somewhere right now.”
The gathering then turned from a memorial to a direct call for action. One of the speakers, Bridget Tolley, confronted the police, who were present at the vigil, demanding further investigation into the death of her mother. Her mother, Gladys Tolley, was a 61-year-old Algonquin woman who was killed in 2001 by a Sûreté du Québec (SQ) police cruiser on the highway on the Kitigan Zibi reserve where she lived.
At the protest, Bridget Tolley called for government action, saying, “My family still has so many unanswered questions.” Tolley noted that the investigator for the case was the brother of the police officer in question, stating that this was a direct conflict of interest within the police force, and called for greater police objectivity.
“The police are a [unit], a brotherhood, and I speak out to undo that in some way.”
An anonymous speaker at the event echoed Tolley’s point about the lack of objectivity within the police force, saying, “The police are a [unit], a brotherhood, and I speak out to undo that in some way.”
Following Tolley’s call for action, ideas about the de-escalation of violence were raised. One attendee spoke about the shortcomings of the police education system.
The attendee, who had filed access to information (ATI) requests, argued that the bulk of police education is completed in CEGEP, but two of the largest CEGEPs (Ahuntisc and Maisonneuve) do not include training for crisis de-escalation at any point in their programs. The result, the attendee said, is police being called in to respond to situations they were never trained for.
Another speaker shared the story of a friend who was killed on his front lawn by police after the police overreacted to a complaint of noise and suspicious behaviour. The speaker alleged that the police were not adequately trained to de-escalate the conflict, resulting in the man’s death.
The organisers emphasized the importance of remembering these people and sharing their stories so that their deaths were not in vain.
As Matson seeks to build and strengthen the community of supporters that already exists in Montreal and raise awareness on these issues, she asked those present at the vigil to “remember those who have been killed in these really intense ways, support one another, and love one another.”