Around 300 people gathered in Montreal on Wednesday to protest police treatment of black people, both here and in the US. Over a thousand people have announced their intention to participate in a similar event this Saturday. The Black Lives Matter movement might be finally picking up momentum in Montreal.

Protesters met in Nelson Mandela Park on Wednesday, responding to the call of the Black Coalition of Quebec. The event was organised in the wake of the tragic events that unfolded last week in the United-States.

It was partly in memory of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, both killed by the police in the space of a couple of days. Several people payed tribute to them and to the five police officers killed by a sniper during a Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas.

It was also meant to call attention to the way Montreal’s black community is treated by the police. Several speakers stood up on a pick-nick table to address the crowd; some were planned, some were spontaneous. A peaceful march followed and no incidents were reported.

If you missed all of this, you will have another occasion to show your support, this Saturday in Cabot Square. A new Montreal NGO, Twese, is inviting people to gather there at 2pm “to honour the lives lost and express our rejection of police brutality and any kind of racial prejudice.”

Cabot Square is a historically and socially meaningful place for indigenous people in Montreal. Co-founder of Twese Anne-Sophie Tzeuton says that the organisers are aware of the importance of Cabot Square to First Nations and that they want to honour it.

Police brutality and discrimination are also “a huge problem” for First Nations, she noted, “of course we intend to talk about it and we hope many will attend.”

Anne-Sophie Tzeuton, cofounder of Twese and Vice-President of McGill African Students Society
Anne-Sophie Tzeuton, cofounder of Twese and Vice-President of McGill African Students Society

The main objective of Saturday’s event, aside from rallying people to the cause, is “to offer concrete solutions that we can all apply to our daily lives.” Several speakers will take the microphone to that effect. Spoken word performances and other artistic tributes to lives lost in police shootings are also planned.

Tzeuton is happy with the unexpected popularity of the event on Facebook, but she fears that all this attention won’t last. “It often happens, after a tragedy: there is a lot of media attention at once, but it passes and then we forget.”

She hopes the current momentum can be used to discuss lasting solutions before the hype dies down.

Twese (“everybody” in Kinyarwanda) describes itself as a platform encouraging the diasporas to exchange ideas and further a collective reflection about various topics. It was created this summer by four young black women who have played active roles in black student associations in McGill, Concordia and Université de Montréal.

Discussing Canadian Racism

Quebec’s Minister of Public Safety Martin Coiteux reacted amiably to Wednesday’s protest: “We have to be very careful to protect the rights of all minorities in Quebec so I support people who are demonstrating for having equality of rights and we are completely in solidarity with what happened.”

However, according to him, “the situation here is, fortunately, very different to the United States.” He insisted on the importance of preserving “our model here of peaceful coexistence.”

How Different is it Really?

In 2013, the Office of the Correctional Investigator found that native people were alarmingly overrepresented in federal jails. In 2016, aboriginal youth made up 41% of people entering the justice system, despite representing less than 7% of the overall population.

Quebec’s commission of human rights officially recognizes that police forces practice racial profiling since 2010. An internal investigation published that year by the SPVM revealed that in 2006-2007, in Montréal-Nord and Saint-Michel,41% of young black men had had their identity checked, compared to 6% of young white men. The study also found that black people were more often carded for “vague” motives.

Just a couple of months ago, a black man named Jean-Pierre Bony was killed by the police in Montréal-Nord during a drug raid. Bony was shot in the head with a plastic projectile in front of the bar where the raid was conducted. He died in the hospital four days later.

“The only difference between Jean-Pierre Bony and what we’ve been seeing in the U.S is that there was no camera,” remarked Will Prosper, an ex-cop turned black rights activist, in a recent interview with Radio-Canada.

Many Canadians, like Coiteux, feel that the kind of systemic racism observed in the United-States doesn’t happen in Canada. According to Tzeuton, those claims are most often made by people who are racially or socioeconomically privileged.

“It is very easy for people who are not living those problems to claim they don’t exist.”

* Featured image of the April 6th Montreal North protest following the police killing of Jean-Pierre Bony by Gerry Lauzon (creative commons)

This is the premier edition of the FTB Podcast, a bi-weekly panel discussion with reports, interviews and more. Over the next few months, topics will range from news items, politics, social issues, music, arts and more from Montreal, Quebec, Canada and the world.

In our first episode, we discuss the anti-police brutality march, Bill C-51 and a proposed name change for the McGill Redmen.

Host: Jason C. McLean
Producer: Hannah Besseau

    Panelists

Irkar Beljaars: Producer of Native Solidarity News on CKUT, Mohawk journalist and writer.

Arturo Vasquez: NGO consultant working with human rights and indigenous communities in Mexico, Political Science major at Concordia. To inquire about his consultation services, please send him an email: arturovasques (at) outlook (dot) com.

Drew Wolfson Bell: Sports Editor at the McGill Daily, third-year Education student

Anti-Police Brutality March Report by Cem Ertekin

Microphone image: Ernest Duffoo / Flickr Creative Commons

The following is an excerpt from a featured interview with mayoral candidate and Projet Montreal leader Richard Bergeron by FTB contributor Taylor Noakes which you can expect to see in full next week. Given that Bergeron’s interview with Radio X this past Saturday raised many eyebrows on the left, we are releasing his responses to two questions which address what he said on the air (along with a French translation because of francophone interest in the topic).

Forget the Box: In a recent interview some comments you made about the annual police brutality march and the use of municipal bylaw P-6 left some confused about your position. I know that your party twice moved motions, which were defeated by your opponents on council, to repeal the controversial portions of P-6, those that mirrored the now repealed Law 12, and you’ve been quite clear in the past that you consider P-6 to be a violation of basic civil liberties. Has your position changed?

Richard Bergeron: No. Allow me to be crystal clear: myself, my party, we are opposed to the 2012 additions to P-6, we have always opposed them, and we will continue to oppose them. Our position has not changed. There is no place for these type of draconian restrictions on the right to peaceful protest in a democratic society. A Projet Montreal administration will move swiftly to repeal these sections of P-6.

FTB: Now let’s move on to the question of the annual police brutality march. What’s your position on that?

Bergeron: The question of the police brutality march is a difficult one, because of the regularity with which it descends into violence and chaos. Previous mayors have ignored it, allowed it to happen and then held a press conference the next day to denounce the violence and score political points.

My approach would be quite different. I would sit down with the organizers, open a dialogue, and make sure that their protest is able to unfold without restriction, but in a way which respects public space and the importance of maintaining a safe and secure environment for all.

My administration would do everything in our power to ensure that protests unfold without violence or provocation. In the case that we fail, we will direct police to target those who have carried out criminal acts, and charge them under the law. It is important, when it comes to protest, that our police force targets the guilty, and does not criminalize an entire class of people for the crimes of a handful among them.

I don’t believe, as my opponents seem to, that we can either have the right to protest, or safe streets, but not both. I believe that a balance can be struck which respects the rights of all citizens. Striking that balance is the role of a responsible government, and it is the role I see for my administration.

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Forget the Box: Dans une interview récente, un commentaire que vous avez fait sur la question de la manifestation annuelle contre la brutalité policière a laissé certains perplexes. Je sais que votre parti a fait deux propositions – défaites – pour abroger les dispositions controversées de P-6, celles qui rappelaient la loi 12, maintenant abrogée. Dans le passé, vous avez clairement déclaré que vous considériez que le règlement P-6 violait les libertés fondamentales. Est-ce que vous avez changé d’avis?

Bergeron: Non. Je vais être clair : mon parti et moi sommes opposés aux amendements de 2012 à P-6, nous l’avons toujours été et nous continuerons de nous y opposer. Notre position n’a pas changé. Il n’y a pas de place pour ces restrictions draconiennes au droit de manifester dans une société démocratique. Une administration de Projet Montréal agira rapidement pour abroger ces amendements.

FTB: Parlons maintenant de la question de la manifestation contre la brutalité policière. Quelle est votre position à ce sujet?

Bergeron: La question de la manifestation contre la brutalité policière est complexe, compte tenu qu’elle dégénère régulièrement dans la violence et le chaos. Les maires précédents ont ignoré ce problème, ont permis qu’il arrive et ont tenu une conférence de presse le lendemain pour dénoncer la violence et marquer des points politiques.

Mon approche serait différente. Je m’assiérais avec les organisateurs, je dialoguerais et je m’assurerais que la manifestation puisse être tenue sans restriction, mais dans le respect du bien public et de l’importance du maintien d’un environnement sécuritaire pour tous.

Mon administration ferait tout en son pouvoir pour s’assurer que les manifestations aient lieu sans violence ou provocation. Si nous échouons, nous demanderons à la police de cibler ceux qui ont commis des actes criminels et les condamner en conséquence. Il est important, dans ce contexte, que la police cible ceux qui sont coupables, sans criminaliser tout un groupe pour des délits isolés.

Je ne crois pas, contrairement à mes adversaires, que l’on peut défendre le droit de manifester, ou des rues sécuritaires, mais pas les deux. Je crois que l’on peut trouver un juste milieu pour respecter les droits de tous les citoyens. Trouver ce compromis est le rôle d’un gouvernement responsable, et ce sera le rôle de mon administration.