content warning: gun violence, police brutality
On August 29, Projet Montreal announced that the Service de Police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM) would be receiving an even larger share of the city budget – an additional $5.5 million in funding towards oppressive, racist police initiatives that negatively impact our communities. In a press conference held Sunday, Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante announced the funds were distributed to “fight against criminal groups,” but the continued investment in police resources instead of social services demonstrates a fundamental lack of care for the individuals most affected by rising crime and its roots in systemic discrimination.
The announcement came in response to an increase in gun violence and shootings in Montreal and Quebec. City leaders claim that this summer saw a particularly high rate of gun violence, with five people shot and killed in the Montreal region during the month of August alone. Criminology experts have attributed this uptick in Montreal to “conflict between different criminal groups over territory, drugs, debts, or disagreements” – a reductive approach to gun violence that neglects to address the systemic roots of harm. Systemic inequities have only worsened for marginalized groups over the course of the pandemic, accompanied by pre-existing socioeconomic strain which increases tensions.
This sudden uptick has attracted media attention, and put pressure on city officials to take action on the cusp of municipal elections. However, the action taken – the addition of 42 staff members to the SPVM – is a lazy and harmful approach to remedy violent crime. The SPVM was founded in a context of brutality and often fatal violence against racialized, unhoused, and neurodivergent peoples. Drug addiction, mental health crises, and self defence are then used as a justification to avoid taking responsibility. As is the case in many American and Canadian jurisdictions, the hegemonic systems of law enforcement more often than not exonerate SPVM officers for their use of often fatal force, thereby allowing the institution to uphold its violent existence. Allocating more funds to the SPVM supports this oppressive system and puts communities targeted by law enforcement at a greater risk of police violence and of being implicated in the prison-industrial complex.
Bolstering police presence is an ineffective remedy to violence. Joint research conducted by the Community Resource Hub (CRH) and Interrupting Criminalization (IC) contends that increased police presence has no effect on deterring violent crime. Police are not preventers of violence – they are perpetrators of it. They encourage the vicious cycle of force and brutality to continue. Data from the CRH and IC shows that violent crime is more prevalent in neighbourhoods where residents face severe financial stress, while current rising crime rates can be attributed to “pandemic stress, increased gun sales, and closure of community institutions.” Therefore, the safest communities are those with the most resources to address these issues, not the most police.
Research has continually proven that the creation and funding of organizations focused on initiatives like crime prevention, neighbourhood development, substance abuse prevention, job training and work development, and recreational and social activities for young people mitigate increasing rates of violent crime. Allocating national, provincial, and municipal funds to organizations such as these would be a much more effective investment in community safety. Furthermore, police abolition could open pathways to reimagined systems of community safety that do not rely on institutions rooted in white supremacy. Communities need enforcers of safety that don’t play into the cycle of carceral harm and retributive justice.
SPVM’s city budget has been steadily rising, totaling $30 million in increased funding this year alone. Montreal is not alone, as many jurisdictions in Canada and the US are also expanding their police budgets. In Montreal, Mayor Plante fed into the fear-mongering narrative, stating that the recent rise in armed violence must be dealt with “quickly and effectively” and that “police officers are at the front, everyday, to counter armed violence in Montreal.” This rhetoric is harmful and generates fear within the public, wrongly presenting police as saviors to a larger public, when in reality they only serve to protect the white and wealthy. If Plante wanted to meaningfully curb armed violence in the city, instead of giving into public fears and funding harmful and hegemonic systems of oppression, she would focus on preventing violence starting at its root cause by defunding the SPVM and funding communities.
It was announced Wednesday that $5 million would be allocated towards “violence prevention and urban security,” yet this investment pales in comparison to the police budget (approximately $700 million in total). It’s as crucial as ever to continue working toward a non-carceral model of community safety which can never be achieved through the violent institution of police. With the upcoming municipal election on November 7, it is of the utmost importance that we continue to pressure candidates to support movements to defund and abolish police. Get involved with abolition movements, like Defund the SPVM and Solidarity Across Borders, as well as the Toronto Prisoners’ Rights Project. Support mutual aid initiatives and community-based organizations, like Meals for Milton-Parc, the Yellow Door, and Chez Doris.