Forum on armed violence calls for greater collaboration and quicker action


‘We now have a roadmap to create a Montreal model of urban security’

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The city of Montreal and its police force unveiled the results of their forum on armed violence held last winter, which was designed to spur solutions to an increase in violent confrontations that had taken the lives of several youth and shaken the city.

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In the resumé of the two-day forum, which brought together police, community and institutional partners, and young people to find a “new model of urban security based on Montreal’s reality,” participants outlined four priorities: maintain a consultation process among all the affected groups; share information quickly to ward off possible violence; learn from best practices elsewhere to train police and other community workers; and restore a sense of belonging in the community for young people while working on interventions with targeted groups.

“The forum was a unique opportunity to bring together different expertises around the same table to share possible solutions and identify concrete actions,” Alain Vaillancourt, Montreal’s executive committee member responsible for public security, said in a statement. “With these reports, we now have a roadmap to create a Montreal model of urban security, a model that will put youth and prevention at the heart of our strategy.”

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Opposition party Ensemble Montreal, which had derived the forum as a “public relations exercise” in part because it was closed to the media and excluded certain groups from participating, applauded the forum’s call for greater collaboration between police and community organizations working to steer youth away from criminality.

“The report confirms what we’ve been telling the Plante administration for several months: a feeling of insecurity is taking hold in Montreal,” Abdelhaq Sari, opposition critic for public safety, wrote in an email. “We must quickly put in place the guidelines demanded by the participants, such as funding youth organizations on a mission basis and deploying more mixed teams on the ground to establish a dialogue between police officers and youth. However, the deployment of more mixed teams implies that the SPVM’s lack of officers must be addressed.

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“Although the fight against gun violence is everyone’s business, the city of Montreal must act as a driver between all partners to promote better co-operation and stop working in silos.”

The forum came soon after several Montreal youth were killed gun violence in the previous year, including including Amir Benayad, 17, Hani Ouahdi, 20, Thomas Trudel, 16, and Meriem Boundaoui, who died in February 2021, at the age of 15.

On the final day of the forum, Mayor Valérie Plante promised $2 million over the next two years for projects put forward by youth; $5 million from the city’s participatory budget to go to youth projects, plus $400,000 for a phone line for families to help prevent armed violence.

Another forum on armed violence is being planned for 2023.

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Among the most poignant observations came from a youth panel ranging in age from 16 to 25 who lived in boroughs where violent events had occurred, including St-Michel, Montreal North and Côte-des-Neiges—Notre-Dame-de-Grâce. Many said they’d heard gunshots numerous times and felt more fearful and that they had to be vigilant in their neighbourhoods. Others said the violence was being overblown by the media, and their Montreal reality was a peaceful one.

“In the first weeks after the death of Thomas (Trudel, a 16-year-old shot to death in St-Michel in November), it was a bit stressful to walk in the streets,” one young person said. “We were close to the area where he died. Before that, we weren’t used to violence. It made me realize that it’s closer to us than we think.”

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“We often hear gunshots,” said another. “When I think of an environment like that, I say I have to get a gun.”

Cyberbullying is more present now, especially on Zoom meetings, another said. It can start online and continue at school. Participants recommended investing more in groups that work with youth, giving young people more opportunities for work to make them feel empowered, and spending more to tackle poverty, discrimination and access to mental-health care.

Others said cases of extreme violence in Montreal were few and far between, but overblown media coverage made the problem seem larger than it actually is.

“I grew up here. The alarmist stories we hear in the media, I’ve heard them forever. The media coverage is way too big. … Yes, there is armed violence, but it’s far from being common.”

One young person said the news of gun violence was becoming so common it no longer spurred much of an emotional effect when they heard someone was killed with a gun.

“It’s sad,” the person wrote, “that it’s become so banal.”

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