At the September 12 City Council meeting for the Ville-Marie borough, residents of Montreal’s Gay Village presented Mayor Gérald Tremblay with a petition calling for greater security in the borough.
The 2000-signature petition, collected over four weeks, points to homelessness, drug addiction, and mental health problems as major causes of the insecurity.
Frustrated merchants and residents voiced their concerns that security in the Village is not being enforced to the same degree as it is in other areas of the city, and that business is suffering as a result.
Measures called for in the petition include the implementation of the “Projet Nuisance” – an initiative specifically designed to deal with drug-related crime which has already been implemented in the Plateau – and a demand for direct actions to be taken by the city to help the homeless, and assist their reintegration into society.
Storeowner Ghislain Rousseau initiated the petition after witnessing numerous incidents – including an event in which he himself was assaulted while trying to help a homeless man.
“The problem has been ongoing, but there’s clearly been a recent upsurge in crime, incivilities, and verbal abuse in the neighbourhood,” Rousseau explained to The Daily in French.
Rousseau holds the City of Montreal government accountable for residents’ insecurities and for the increasing number of homeless people in the borough.
Some worry that the petition may do more harm than good, increasing the marginalization and criminalization of those targeted.
A member of Queer McGill’s Political Action Working Group, Kevin Paul wrote in an email to The Daily that he finds the petition to be a “disturbing testament to a gay, white, affluent class that has turned its back on the most marginalized individuals in the queer community.”
Paul attributed insecurity in the Village to insufficient provision of resources and social services, adding that business and condo owners in support of the petition are speaking to their economic interests.
“When the petitioners refer to ‘insecurity,’ they are concerned about their profits and real estate values, and not the well-being of people,” he said.
When asked whether the homeless population in the Village deters business, Paul responded, “I know of many people deterred from going to the Village due to its commercialism and over-policing, but I have never heard of anyone who avoids the neighbourhood because of homeless people.”
Fuck Yeah Quebec blogger William Raillant-Clark has documented various security incidents around the Village in support of the petition.
“We are asking the City of Montreal to work with the boroughs, municipalities, police, and provincial health services to ensure that the welfare of these people in need is shared equally throughout Quebec and the Montreal region,” he wrote in an email to The Daily.
Raillant-Clark explained that the petition is, above all, concerned with the fact that so many homeless people are concentrated in the area and have been abandoned by social services.
“Such concentration is providing drug dealers and pimps with an easy to access pool of victims, which, needless to say, is amplifying the problem,” he stated. “The city and province expect an already vulnerable community – gays and lesbians – to take on the responsibility of integrating these people back in to society.”
Rousseau said that the petition is not advocating the “hunting” of homeless communities, but rather the elimination of drug dealers and gangs that bring insecurity to the area.
Many agree, however, that increasing police presence in the Village is not the answer.
Isabelle Rassestin, an intervention worker at Droits Devant clinic affiliated with Le Réseau d’aide aux personnes seules et itinérantes de Montréal, spoke to possible solutions to homelessness, mental illness, and drug addiction in the Village. She suggested creating more shelters and “sites of secured injection” in order to reduce the presence of drugs on the streets, or at the very least ensure they are consumed safely.
Rousseau stated that new solutions to enhanced security, in the place of an increased police presence, must be found.
“Repression just doesn’t work, and neither have the past 15 years’ policies,” he said.
Paul shared similar sentiments, stating that “based on reports from Queer McGill members and friends, experiences of violence and intimidation in the Village are far more likely to arise from actions of the Montreal police than from the individuals targeted by this petition.”
No representative of the Village’s police force at Station 22 was available for comment at the time of press.
Upon receiving the petition, Tremblay stated that he was aware of the problem and that measures would be taken. However, residents have not heard from the City since Council.