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Montreal’s first Defund the Police Festival teaches community about often misunderstood issue

The Defund the Police Festival hosted workshops, comedy shows and a community meal Saturday. Olivia O'Malley / Global News

Montreal’s first ever Defund the Police Festival was held in NDG Saturday afternoon. Organizers say the growing movement is often misunderstood and to really get down to the root cause, education and prevention is required.

“The purpose is really to bring community together, you know, to gather and have a good time, as well as educate the community about what defunding the police means,” said Jessica Quijano, from the Coalition to Defund the Police.

Organizers say the Defund the Police Festival is a safe space for the community to learn about solutions and alternatives to police. The day-long event featured face painting for the kids, a book sale, skate jam, and various workshops.

Read more: What does ‘defund the police’ really mean? Experts say confusion harming progress

“There will be a total of ten workshops that are going on today to give people a chance to really learn about this issue, if they might not be used to talking about this kind of thing,” said Concordia Student Organizer and Festival Organizer Lacey Boudreau.

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In the City of Montreal’s 2022 budget, public security accounts for 17.7 per cent of spending, more than any other issue. The police department’s budget was increased by $45 million, bringing it to a total of $724 million.

Festival organizers want to reallocate 50 per cent of Montreal’s police budget to community organizations, which advocates believe will help prevent gun violence in the city. It’s an issue politicians and police say they are working to curb.

“The reason why we see an increase in gun violence, again, is very much linked to the drug trade. Why do a lot of people go into the drug trade? Because they need money,” said Quijano.

Read more: Montreal community groups call on city to defund the police

In a statement to Global News, the mayor’s office writes, “community groups are at the heart of our public safety strategy and play a central role in preventing violence, especially among young people. Our administration is convinced of the importance of better supporting community groups and that is why we doubled the financial support granted to community groups in the last budget.”

However, festival organizers argue community organizations still aren’t properly funded.

Montreal police did not reply to our interview request by deadline.

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