Tensions Run High at Hoodstock

Citizen Forum Against Racial Profiling Returns to Montreal North

Residents of Montreal North commemorate Fredy Villanueva. Photo Angela Heguy Johnston

Two years after the shooting death of Fredy Villanueva, hundreds took to Montreal North’s rainy streets to honour the slain teen and protest police brutality in the neighbourhood.

“The relationship between police and visible minorities in Montreal North hasn’t gotten much better in the past two years,” said event organizer Steve Duvalsaint. “[The police] aren’t as rough, but there’s plenty, if not more harassment than there was before [Villanueva] was shot.”

The Aug. 8 demonstration rounded off Hoodstock 2010—a forum where Montrealers discussed racial profiling, took in presentations on the mass arrests that occurred during the G20 and listened to local musicians perform at Henri Bourassa Park, the site where 18-year-old Villanueva was killed by a Montreal police officer in 2008.

Hoodstock 2010 came a few months after a coroner’s inquest into the Villanueva shooting revealed a number of protocol breaches on the part of Montreal’s police force following the shooting.

Most notably, the inquest found that Constable Jean-Loup Lapointe, the officer who shot Villanueva, was not separated from his partner before giving his official testimony about the shooting.

“It just throws fuel on the fire. We can’t trust the police to investigate themselves,” said a local man who asked only to be identified as Charles. “So now I have a video camera I take with me everywhere, so that I can capture police brutality on tape. I’ve used it before and I’m positive I’ll use it again.”

As speakers addressed the ethnically diverse crowd, police cruisers regularly patrolled the park’s surrounding streets. A heavy police contingent formed a multiple block radius around the park, their presence doing little to quell the feelings of animosity between locals and law enforcement.

“The amount of police patrolling the area is completely disproportionate to the amount of people here,” said Sophie Sénécal, who moderated a question and answer period on police brutality.

“I think [the police presence] hurt our turnout,” said Duvalsaint. “Young men see the cops and they don’t want to be hassled so they stay home. Jaggi Singh, one of our speakers, came to the park today and was arrested before he could give his speech.”

After the day’s events, protesters marched to Station 39, on Henri Bourassa Boulevard. The crowd then lay on the pavement as a symbol of solidarity with Villanueva.

In the aftermath of the Villanueva shooting, Gaetan Cousineau, the head of Quebec’s human rights commission, had denied claims that Montreal’s police force engaged in racial profiling.

However, following Hoodstock 2010, La Presse published excerpts from a report by criminologist Mathieu Charest that confirmed the police’s routine practice of racial profiling in the largely Haitian neighborhoods of Montreal North and St-Michel. The report found that, between 2001 and 2007, 40 per cent of young black men were questioned by the police compared to only five per cent of young white males.

This article originally appeared in Volume 31, Issue 02, published August 24, 2010.