Thousands of Montrealers gathered on May 31 in front of the Service de Police de la Ville de Montréal’s (SPVM) downtown headquarters to protest police brutality and anti-Black racism in Canada and the United States. The demonstrations were organized by Justice for Victims of Police Killings, Hoodstock, and Tout Le Hood En Parle, as an act of solidarity with victims of racialized police violence. The recent death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet in Toronto and murders of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia and George Floyd in Minneapolis have sparked demonstrations around the world in support of the Black Lives Matter movement that aims to eradicate white supremacy and advocate against violence facing Black communities.
Speakers at the demonstration stressed the need for continued resistance against systemic racism that discriminates Black and Indigenous peoples, and expressed hope that the current protests will enact systemic change. McGill social work graduate Vincent Mousseau (BSW ‘20) exhibited dismay at the Canadian government’s inaction and urged attendees to reflect on Canada’s legacy of colonialism and racial injustice.
“It’s time to let this anger and unquenchable thirst for justice nourish our struggle and our movements,” Mousseau said. “Let it remind us of the necessity to always stand up against anti-Black racism, colonialism, and neocolonialism that [is] inherent to the Canadian and Quebecois nation-building project.”
After several speeches at the Parterre du Quartier des Spectacles, protestors marched in separate groups through the city. One group went up Boulevard Saint-Laurent and through the Plateau while another proceeded west towards Dorchester Square. After chanting and marching throughout downtown Montreal, the crowds reconvened near the SPVM headquarters on Saint-Urbain street.
The Montreal demonstration remained peaceful from 5 p.m. to just after 8 p.m. when the SPVM deemed the protest illegal, citing property damage and vandalism. Law enforcement officers began firing tear gas and rubber bullets into crowds and the SPVM made 11 arrests over the course of the night. Mayor Valerie Plante denounced the violent acts by “looters,” and has yet to make a statement on the SPVM’s actions.
At around 8:15 p.m., police began pepper-spraying protestors in the area around Place-des-Arts, and later used tear gas and rubber bullets on the crowds. While law enforcement officers forced demonstrators to disperse, the SPVM simultaneously prevented trains from stopping at the nearby Saint Laurent and Place des Arts metro stations. Protestors claimed that the actions of the SPVM contributed to tension and confusion at the scene.
“I don’t understand why if [the SPVM] just wanted us to disperse […] they went out of their way to trap and chase people,” a protestor* told The McGill Tribune.
Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Vice-President External Ayo Ogunremi condemned the law enforcement’s use of force against the protesters.
“[It] has been documented that the SPVM, of its own accord, escalated the May 31 demonstration into one of grave danger for all civilians present, and that it is well known that this kind of repressive response is typical of demonstrations against police brutality in Montreal,” Ogunremi wrote in an email to the Tribune. “At one moment […], a projectile was thrown towards fully armoured police, who responded by tear gassing an entire crowd of non-violent civilian protesters.”
Ogunremi criticized the actions of some white protesters at the march that can ultimately harm the Black community.
“Video evidence [online] documented white protesters spraying graffiti in Creole to feign vandalism from Black protesters,” Ogunremi wrote. “This kind of activity reinforces the false notion of Black criminality and sharpens the focus of Black peoples as the target of police violence.”
In a collective statement to the Tribune, McGill’s Black Students’ Network (BSN) emphasized the need for continued action against racism in Canada.
“We must not cease our efforts to call attention to these acts of discrimination and brutality,” the BSN wrote in an email to the Tribune. “We must continue to demand that the politicians who represent us make it a point to take seriously issues of systemic racism which have subjugated people of Black and Indigenous descent for centuries.”
*Source was given anonymity for reasons of personal security.