Montreal police gun violence

A week of magical thinking about gun violence and Montreal police

A pair of daytime murders in populated areas of the city last week raised questions — and absurd theories — about the SPVM’s inability to prevent shootings.

Last week, a pair of daytime murders in populated areas of Montreal once again raised questions about gun violence — or rather, the inability of the police to stop it. There is an obvious answer to this question, which I’ll explain below, but neither politicians nor media personalities wanted to consider it. And so, we were treated to a series of absurd theories and a long week of magical thinking about gun violence.

One absurd theory is that Montrealers don’t love the police enough. This lack of love, most evident when we film them with our phones, has supposedly caused police to “disengage” and made it harder for the SPVM to attract new recruits. As I’ve written elsewhere, the Montreal police brotherhood and their allies in the media have made claims like this repeatedly since the 1980s, especially in moments when major protests against police erupt and new police reforms seem likely.

What’s unique in this case is that there are no police reforms on the table. All the talk in the summer of 2020 about a “reckoning” with police violence and anti-Black racism is a distant memory for our political leaders today.

In the present context, then, the claims serve a new purpose. They are meant to explain why Montreal police have been unable to stop gun violence. We are meant to believe that the police, to avoid being filmed, are just driving aimlessly around the city or, as some media pundits have claimed, making some stops and arrests, but not of Black people. The Black Montrealers who have spoken out in the last month about police violence against them would beg to differ. So, too, would SPVM director Sophie Roy, who said on Saturday that she’s seen no evidence of this on the ground.

Another absurd theory is that police can’t stop violence because they eliminated the street gang squad several years ago. This is an odd claim to make after a pair of murders that La Presse credibly suggested were ordered by the mafia and the bikers, respectively. It’s odd as well, given that only one-third of murders last year were attributed to organized crime groups of any kind.

More importantly, the claim ignores that the members of the old gang squad were shifted to a broader organized crime unit in 2016 (they didn’t disappear) and that the SPVM re-introduced the street gang squad a year ago, doubling the size of the Eclipse squad in order to go after gangs (or people the police perceive as gang members).

The most absurd theory of all is that Projet Montréal defunded the SPVM. No one making this claim referred to any particular budget year or amount, and for good reason. The party has increased the police budget every year it’s been in power, including the largest budget increase in Montreal history ($45-million) in 2022. Putting readers’ gullibility to the test, one journalist explained that, although Projet Montréal might not have defunded the police, it did recruit activist Will Prosper to run for mayor of Montréal-Nord last year (an attempt he lost). And so, gun violence is caused by defund “vibes.”

The most absurd and magical thinking of the last week, however, came at a press conference on Saturday. Here, the CAQ, Projet Montréal and the SPVM came together to announce that 450 more police officers will be hired in Montreal over five years. Montreal, of course, already has the most police officers per capita in Canada — 33% more than the average for large cities. With the new hires, Montreal will have 41% more.

No one explained why, with all the current police resources, we still have a problem with gun violence in Montreal, nor how adding more police will help. Indeed, the CAQ’s Geneviève Guilbault simply explained the new police will be “present” in the streets and therefore improve Montrealers’ “feeling of security.” She dodged journalists’ questions about whether any specific goals will be pursued. Fewer guns? Fewer murders? No, just more police.

If Guilbault’s claim brings to mind cops standing passively on street corners keeping the peace, that’s certainly not what will occur. The announcement of 450 more police needs to be read alongside the announcement by SPVM leaders a day earlier that they’ve instructed police to increase  their “pressure and repression.” The mission, they explained, “is to securitize the good people and bother the bad.”

Leaving aside the repugnant suggestion that the world can be divided into good and bad people, we might ask how police will identify “the bad” — people who will be targeted not because they’ve actually committed a crime, but because they seem like the kind of people who will. The police have no special power to predict who will commit a crime. The history of the police, in Montreal and elsewhere, shows they simply associate future criminality with particular groups, especially people who are racialized, poor or both. More police, then, is unlikely to reduce gun violence, but it will almost certainly increase racial and social profiling.

Beyond all this magical thinking, there is a good reason police have not been able to reduce gun violence: namely, that police are decent at arresting people for violence they’ve committed and terrible at preventing future violence. Preventing violence is the work of non-police organizations and institutions, the same groups of people we’ve been underfunding and defunding for years and whose essential work has been severely disrupted by the pandemic.

Sadly, our politicians and media personalities prefer magical thinking to effective solutions.

And whatever might be said about Montrealers, they certainly love the police. ■

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