Across what is currently Canada and the United States, the violence enacted by the criminal justice and carceral systems have been at the centre of ongoing protests following endemic incidents of police brutality. In solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, and in recognition of Canada’s history of colonial repression and carceral violence, rallies were held in Montreal, Toronto, Calgary, London, Moncton, and Ottawa on August 29 in a nationwide action to defund the police. In Montreal, over 200 people marched downtown, culminating in the toppling of the John A. MacDonald statue. Saturday’s movement included 10 demands:
- Defund the police
- Reparations for BIPOC communities
- Disarm and demilitarize the police
- Empowerment of racialized workers
- RCMP off Indigenous lands
- Decriminalize sex work and drugs
- Eliminate unnecessary laws
- Remove police from schools
- Repeal laws that criminalize survival
- Provide safe, accessible housing for everyone
- Fully invest in care, not cops
- Free people from prisons and jails, end incarceration
Abolitionists and activists have long called for the removal of justice systems that were born out of, and continue to perpetuate, colonial violence against racialized people. It is time for Montreal to answer that call.
This summer, Montreal’s municipal budget has come up for renewal, sparking campaigns by residents for the Service de Police de la Ville de Montréal’s (SPVM) near $665 million dollar budget to be defunded and reallocated. The #DefundtheSPVM campaign has 10 demands, the first being that the city of Montreal “cut at least 50 percent of the SPVM’s budget immediately, and redirect these funds to programs and services managed by and for affected communities.” The rest of the demands focus on disarmament and demilitarization of the police; decolonization of land and institutions; reinvestment in marginalized communities; and decriminalization of sex work, drug use, and other “incivilities” for which marginalized folks are disproportionately targeted and surveilled.
Though the deadline for input on the upcoming budget was August 23, it remains important for us to pressure our municipal government to defund the police and work to dismantle the current system, making room for one that is centred on mutual support.
In Canada, 100 people have been killed by the police since 2017. Last year, the SPVM released a report on police stops and street checks, finding significant “systemic bias” within the Montreal police system, though they fail to recognize it as racial profiling. Since this report, neither actions nor reforms have been brought forward by the SPVM or by the city. Reports and acknowledgements are not enough. Special investigations do not bring justice or peace for families and their communities. Violence and over-policing continues in the Montreal community, and these issues have only been exacerbated during the pandemic. Since March, Quebec has issued more tickets for non-compliance with social distancing laws than any other Province in Canada. On top of economic and social determinants that already disproportionately affect poor and racialized communities, the act of enforcing social distancing effectively criminalizes poverty, further contributing to an already biased system.
Canada’s carceral and justice systems are not broken; they are intended to operate in this way. Indeed, they were built this way to oppress Indigenous and other racialized communities. There is no room for reform within Canada’s current carceral and justice systems. No amount of policy change can reconcile this harm: the only option is to remove carceral systems from the current colonial social structure and replace them with community-centred alternatives, like those that have already been in place in Indigenous and racialized communities. This work has been the product of years of labour from abolitionists and activists, and the system cannot be dismantled overnight. However, defunding the police is a crucial step on the road to abolition – until the police system can be abolished, we must eliminate their funding and resources and work to reduce their power over the communities they claim to serve.
Ahead of Montreal city council’s recommendations, which will be released on September 21, we can still contact councillors to let them know how the budget should be spent for the 2021 year. We can also contact our borough’s councils and push for police presence in our communities to be eliminated and the police defunded. For those who are not in Montreal, consider joining your local mutual aid and/or abolitionist organization, and participate in their work towards an anti-carceral future. We must also put work into reading and internalizing the experiences of Black and Indigenous writers and community activists, and those who have been incarcerated, through reading lists, countless of which have been created over the past few months. It is important to also personally make use of alternatives to the police, work on dismantling our own instincts to rely on carceral systems, and educate others on the alternative systems that exist in our communities.