On the crisis of police killings in Montreal
Remembering Jean-François Nadreau
by Stefan Christoff
On a sunny winter afternoon in Montréal's east-end, people gathered for an emotional vigil to commemorate the life of Jean-François Nadreau, killed in February 2012 by police bullets. Beyond mourning and remembrance, the action gave voice to an ongoing call for justice by Nadreau’s friends and family.
Jean-François was killed at home by the SPVM, after his girlfriend Josiane Millette made a 911 emergency call, in response to a deepening crisis of personal depression. Five armed police arrived at the apartment and Jean-François’s crisis was quickly compounded into a state of panic. Failing to recognizing the mental health context at hand, the police escalated the situation, in response Jean-François picked-up a machete and began yelling, the police opened fire, Jean-François was shot in the chest and died.
At the commemorative rally, Alexandre Popovic from la Coalition contre la répression et les abus policiers, spoke clearly on the urgent need for an extensive crisis intervention team in Montréal, equipped with people who have the capacity and training to deal with such situations. Far from escalating a personal crisis into a deadly tragedy, Popovic suggested that crisis intervention teams, in contrast to trigger-happy police units, could help to find humane resolutions as opposed to amplifying violence.
In a context of austerity, in Québec under the Parti Québécois, and in Canada under the Conservatives, a socially toxic mix of poverty, homelessness and mental health issues will only increase. As politicians of all stripes move to cut back on public institutions, from mental health facilities, to financing for social housing, or funding for anti-poverty community groups, the collective strain of unfettered capitalism, with less and less of a social cushion, can only lead to an increase in deadly police incidents, like the case of Jean-François Nadreau.
In Montréal today there is a wave of civilians deaths at the hands of police.
Only a few months ago, Montréal police killed an unarmed Donald Ménard in the hallway of a rooming house in Centre-Sud with a taser gun, during a visit sparked by a drug overdose in the same building. In recent weeks, Alain Magloire, another person close to the streets, was brutally killed by Montréal police. In both of these recent cases, mental health issues were involved, situations that clearly could have been resolved without deadly shots.
Activists who consistently hold grassroots protests and commemorations, often in collaboration with the shooting victims families, face an uphill battle against police killings. As more and more people die at the hands of Montréal police, the lack of true accountability is compounding, while real contributions toward peaceful solutions, like operating a serious crisis intervention unit, are often blown to the side in the name of a punitive policing approach and neo-liberal austerity cuts to public spending.
This series of police shootings demands a serious social debate and also collective action. Calls to disarm the police are entirely fair and accurate in this violent context, as more and more people are dying at the hands of the Montréal police.
In Québec, a legal context where one police force, shortly after a shooting happens, is mandated to investigate the police force / officers in question, basically prohibits any real possibilities for justice. Calls to create an independent body to investigate police killings have grown over the years, but there’s little action from the PQ, despite some political rhetoric supporting the idea around the last election.
At question in almost all police killings, is the consistent lack of justice for the families and friends of victims at an institutional level, while mainstream media reports fail to highlight the social and political context of intersecting oppressions that create the framework for these killings.
Facing police guns today are the disenfranchised, from people who face parallel challenges of poverty and mental health struggles, or young immigrants, racialized in this society, facing racial profiling by the police. Such as, Mohamed Anas Bennis a young Moroccan immigrant killed in 2005 by police bullets in Côte-des-Neiges, or Fredy Villanueva killed by the SPVM in a Montréal North park while playing a game of dice with friends in 2007. Villanueva’s killing sparked a series of grassroots neighbourhood protests and actions of revolt, in an area of the city facing poverty, along with consistent racial profiling and targeted harassment by police forces.
In reality there is a crisis facing Montréal, more and more people are dying under police bullets and their still is not a serious discussion about prevention, or accountability, happening within the political halls of power, or within the mainstream media. In response to this scream of official silence and consistent lack of justice, all people concerned and outraged by police shootings should join the upcoming annual protest against police brutality taking place on March 15, 2014.