In August, the Société de transport de Montréal (STM) announced a plan to shut down and remodel the Atwater metro entrance in Cabot Square starting January 2017, citing security concerns as the reason behind the project. Supporters of the initiative have complained about the presence of people who are homeless, and who regularly gather in and around the building. These people are said to be solely responsible for high rates of crime in the area; almost a third of all crimes committed in the STM network between 2011 and 2013 took place at Atwater station. Due to ongoing systemic discrimination against Indigenous peoples by the Canadian settler-colonial state, a disproportionate number of people who are homeless in Montreal are Indigenous; hostile architecture and the destruction of spaces which provide shelter are classist and discriminatory against them. The proposed solution, far from addressing the root causes of crime and homelessness, will marginalize and endanger the people who take shelter in the metro entrance.
These renovations comes barely two years after the completion of another massive construction project at Cabot Square, which made the space less welcoming to those who spend time and sleep there. Areas of grass were paved over, and benches were fitted with railings that deter people from sleeping on them. These changes were especially harmful to Indigenous peoples who are homeless, as Cabot Square serves as a place of gathering and hosting activities centered around Indigenous culture and heritage.
The marginalization of these communities renders them ‘criminal’ and unwelcome in what is supposed to serve as an inclusive public space. Moreover, the $3.3 million STM plan to refurbish the Cabot square metro entrance paves the way for greater police scrutiny of the area itself: the metro entrance is being outfitted with glass panels so police can observe the interior at all times. Local authorities have a poor track record of dealing humanely with homeless communities, especially those who are Indigenous and racialized.
These initiatives are hardly surprising in a society that demonizes the homeless at every turn, and whose very foundations rest on the disenfranchisement of Indigenous peoples. Without consulting these marginalized communities, the city and the STM are not striving for a solution that would include marginalized peoples who regularly use the space, but rather choose to adopt a solution that puts them at greater risk of police scrutiny and displacement. It is unacceptable that the City of Montreal and the STM did not consult all the communities directly affected by the reconstruction of the Atwater metro station entrance. In the future, consultations should ensure that resources are spent in ways that prioritize the well-being of marginalized groups, who most need the space.
—The McGill Daily editorial board