The Service de Police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM), like all police forces, has a long and continuing history of persecuting racialized persons. A 2019 report found that Black and Indigenous people were 4-5 times as likely to be stopped by the SPVM as whites. Since then, the SPVM has implemented a street check policy with guidelines regulating when street checks are justified – yet, this policy does not include sanctions for officers who disobey it, nor does it require the collection of race-based data for every street check, making it next to impossible to hold the police accountable for discriminatory behavior. This is an example of performative reform that pays lip service to those concerned about police violence, but that ultimately does nothing to remedy the systemic racism inherent to policing. In fact, shortly after the aforementioned report was published, the SPVM created a new squad known as the “Quiétude” supposedly to reduce gun violence – an action which blatantly ignores activists’ calls to reduce the presence of the police.
The Quiétude squad is no exception to the SPVM’s history of racial discrimination. A report released by Concordia University professor Ted Rutland found that 74 per cent of those arrested by the squad were Black: alarming statistics, but not surprising given the police’s track record of targeting racialized communities. Though the Quiétude’s stated goal is to “prevent any event that might result in an armed confrontation” the squad has primarily served to perpetuate discriminatory practices. Only 30 per cent of the Black Montrealers arrested were charged with firearm-related offences; the majority of the arrests have instead been drug-related.
The police cannot be agents of social change. As an institution, policing is fundamentally racist, and the behavior of the SPVM’s new squad is emblematic of this deeply-entrenched racism. Reform will never be enough; there is no such thing as an equitable – or a truly “tranquil/peaceful” – police force. We must continue to advocate for the complete abolition of policing – instead of letting the police force use systemic issues such as gun violence as a thinly veiled excuse for perpetuating racism, we should focus on supporting community-based solutions to these problems.
Public officials have been dismissive, if not downright insulting, in their responses to the criticisms of the Montreal police. According to the CBC, Quebec Premier François Legault claimed that the government would “look into” Professor Rutland’s findings, but expressed disdain for Rutland himself, saying that “this study was made by the same professor who said this spring we should free all of Quebec’s inmates.” Attempting to discredit Rutland simply by acknowledging his opposition to the prison-industrial complex only shows that Legault fundamentally misunderstands the issue at hand. Incarceration – which also disproportionately impacts racialized people – is a key arm of the police state, and a compassionate society has a place for neither. Likewise, Montreal police chief Sylvain Caron is unreceptive to proposals that would end street checks. He has characterized street checks as “necessary” to prevent violence – a ludicrous claim considering that the bylaws which justify street checks often regulate innocuous acts as entering and exiting parks. The argument that street checks are necessary to prevent violence is part of a sensationalized narrative about gang violence that has been used to justify increased SPVM patrols, and thus increased street checks on Black Montrealers. Regardless of whether or not gun violence is the pressing issue which Caron presents it as, we cannot depend on the police to create effective solutions to prioritize public safety.
There is a long history of over policing in Montreal, and it continues to be an issue today. Though the spike in worldwide support for anti-racist movements that we saw in June is an important step towards defunding the police and dismantling the systemically racist structures that enable violence, we are still far from long-term change and concrete solutions. To support community alternatives to policing, you can check out Hoodstock and other members of the Defund the Police Coalition. You can also contact Mayor Valérie Plante via her website or at firstname.lastname@example.org to condemn the racist practices of the SPVM. Defund the Police Canada has an email template which encourages city officials to defund the police. It is crucial that we continue to advocate for the city of Montreal to reduce its over $660 million police budget, and support abolitionist efforts in the long term. The Montreal organization Defund the SPVM held a protest downtown on Saturday, October 24 that gathered over 400 people. You can follow #DefundtheSPVM on Instagram to stay updated on their work going forward, and can utilize their email templates to local officials here. No matter where you are, there are certainly abolitionist movements in your own community, and they have likely existed for years. Support community alternatives to policing – getting involved locally is a crucial part of making large-scale change.