One year since the emergence of COVID-19 in Quebec, the consequences of Montreal’s pandemic relief strategies are becoming clearer: the Service de Police de la Ville de Montreal’s (SPVM) jurisdiction has been significantly expanded, without the municipal government considering the rampant brutality and racism within the police force. Rather than addressing issues put forward by community groups such as Defund the SPVM, the city government has chosen to increase funding to the SPVM by $15 million. This move is especially harmful during a global pandemic that disproportionately harms Montreal’s most vulnerable communities.
Despite decades of local organizing, which garnered a considerable amount of mainstream media attention this summer, Montreal’s municipal government has prioritized funding a violent, racist institution above providing support to its most marginalized constituents. In light of the newly announced 8:00 p.m. curfew – which will be enforced by the city police – the decision to increase funding to the SPVM is especially concerning. The city’s disrespect for local groups and organizers, apathy in the face of the violence and racism inherent to policing, and commitment to increasing police power and presence is unacceptable.
In 2020, the Defund the Police coalition released a list of specific and actionable demands for the city government concerning abolition, community reinvestment, decolonization, and decriminalization. These demands included that the 2021 SPVM budget be cut by at least $300 million (just under half of its total budget), and that the city re-invest in “community-led health and safety initiatives.” Despite numerous demonstrations, meetings, and continued pressure, the city of Montreal followed none of the coalition’s requests.
The 2021 budget reduces funds for social housing while paying the SPVM a staggering $679 million – an amount that mayor Valerie Plante justifies in part as “related to inflation.” This blatant rejection of even the most modest reforms is only worsened by the city government’s public statements about the SPVM’s role in preventing the spread of COVID-19. The budget states that the SPVM will continue to be a “key player” in terms of managing the pandemic, and Plante has emphasized her belief that “during a pandemic, cutting into services is not a good idea.” However, the city police do not provide a public service. The goal of a public service during a public health crisis is to decrease injury, harm, and death. The SPVM is not only incapable of carrying out this task; it stands in opposition to it.
Though Montreal received $263 million from the province to help with COVID relief, most of this will pay off expenses from 2020. The particulars of how the rest will be used to support residents remain unclear. In early November, anti-police protesters gathered at the Marché Bonsecours, delaying the announcement of the 2021 city budget. Marlihan Lopez, a member of Black Lives Matter Montreal, spoke with CTV about the discrepancies between community funding and police funding, saying, “We have communities that don’t have enough health and social services, no investments, but there are a lot of investments in the police.” Sandra Wesley, who is a member of the Defund The Police Coalition, issued a statement on the city’s failure to properly address the racist practices of the SPVM: “The city refused to speak to us. We came into the press conference, disrupted it a little bit, but then we wanted to sit down and listen. We wanted to hear them tell us to our face what they’re doing with the budget of our city.” According to Wesley, her coalition was expected to meet with Plante’s executive committee a couple days before the release of the 2021 budget, but the meeting was “cancelled [at the] last minute.” Despite Plante’s repeated claims that she is willing to have open discussions concerning police brutality, specifically regarding the use of alternative weapons, she repeatedly fails to do so, as evidenced by the 2021 budget.
We must pressure our elected officials to listen to the concerns of community activists and to reschedule their meeting with the Defund The Police Coalition. You can email Plante’s executive committee at the following addresses: Magda Popeanu (firstname.lastname@example.org), Sylvain Ouellet (email@example.com), Benoit Dorais (firstname.lastname@example.org), and Valérie Plante (email@example.com).
It is especially important to work within our own communities, including donating to and sharing community resources. If you are able to donate, consider contributing to the Fund to support undocumented people in MTL, a rapid response fund that assists undocumented people who cannot access government services and are possibly facing homelessness. You can also donate to Santropol Roulant, which provides meals on wheels for those dealing with the economic hardships exacerbated by the pandemic.
If monetary donations are not feasible for you, consider donating items such as clothing or food. Resilience Montreal frequently accepts donations, though consider emailing (firstname.lastname@example.org) them first to confirm what kind of donations they need most urgently. You can also like and turn notifications on for their Facebook page which updates community members on the charity’s most relevant donation requests. Meals for Milton Parc, a student led community organization that supports unhoused residents of the Milton Parc area, is also accepting monetary donations, as well as physical goods and care packages. Or, you can lend your time by joining their team of volunteers for 2021. There is also a petition circulating demanding amnesty for unhoused individuals from Quebec’s curfew fines, which you can sign here.
To learn more about defunding the SPVM, visit https://www.defundthespvm.com.