Nearly 100 people in support of police defunding gathered in Montreal’s Place des Arts, near Montreal Police’s (SPVM) headquarters downtown, to voice their anger and frustration with the city and its plans to increase police funding.
“We’re here today to showcase our outrage at this. We really believe in defunding the SPVM,” said Amy Edward, a member of Defund The Police Coalition.
They say they’ve met with the city, and that the mayor, Valerie Plante, said she was open to listening.
Yet the city is set to pass its budget for 2021, which includes $679 million for police, an increase of $14.6 million — or 2.2 per cent — compared with 2020.
Protesters say they are unhappy with the city’s decision to increase the budget instead of investing the money in community initiatives.
“Our demands as a coalition are clear. We’ve been calling for a decrease in SPVM funding, a 50 per cent decrease in order to reallocate this funding and to support programming for the community members that we support,” said Edward.
The movement to defund police picked up steam in North America following the death of George Floyd in the United States last May.
Floyd, a Black man, died in police custody when a white officer kneeled on his neck.
The images of Floyd’s arrest and subsequent death sparked demonstrations in Montreal.
Protest organizers believe police should, for example, not intervene in mental health crises and leave those issues to people with more expertise on the matter.
But people say their arguments and calls to the city to defund the police have fallen on deaf ears.
“It’s really disheartening; it’s going in the wrong direction. It’s disappointing for a mayor that would call her party progressive,” said John Nathaniel Gertler.
The city says police funding is needed as the force is providing more services to people during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The SPVM will continue to play a key role in the COVID-19 crisis management,” wrote Nafissa Fellah, a spokesperson for the city of Montreal. “It will continue to be implicated with its partners in maintaining peace and order in files of social issues, homelessness, mental health and mistreatment of the elderly.”
“It will also put all efforts in place in order to ensure an increased presence on the roads.”
The city says a review on police structure and the possibility of defunding the police has already begun with its partners, including the province and the police force itself.
“We want mental health, homelessness, community support and social intervention resources to be properly financed. It’s this type of support that can free up police and in some cases, provide support that is better adapted to those particular needs,” Fellah wrote.
But before reallocating police budget, the city said it first needs to have alternatives in place that will ensure public safety.
The SPVM declined our request for an interview.
— With files from Global’s Tim Sargeant