Governor General MichaÃlle Jean addressed an auditorium full of youth and community leaders in the Montreal North borough at a youth forum on Tuesday August 31. Jean attempted to dispel some of the public anger that has simmered there since the shooting death of Fredy Villanueva two years ago.
Police shot the unarmed Villaneuva, aged 18, after a dispute in August 2008, killing him and setting off several riots in Montreal North.
At Tuesday’s event, the latest in a series of Youth Dialogues held by the governor general in several Canadian cities, Jean tried to engage the community and address youth concerns.
“I’m convinced that despite young people’s many achievements, there’s still a tendency in some quarters to dismiss you,” she said.
After Jean’s remarks, members of the crowd took turns voicing various grievances: police discrimination against minorities, unfamiliarity with local bylaws, and media bias against them. As they talked, the governor general sat in the crowd taking careful notes.
Youths are more likely to cooperate with authority figures, said one girl who spoke, if they treat youth with greater respect, rather than “commanding like we’re animals or something.”
Most people who spoke did so in French, though a few made their comments in English. Black and white faces appeared in the crowd, including many Haitian immigrants; when Jean briefly slipped into Creole during her speech, a number of audience members whooped.
The event hit an emotional crescendo near the end of the audience remarks, when Fredy Villanueva’s mother stood up to address the crowd and told her she did not want to lose another son.
Though much of the event focused around Villanueva, some parts struck a lighter tone. Singers, dancers, and poets that performed, including “Family Squad,” a local modern dance group, and a girl in the audience who drew loud applause with an impromptu rendition of “Amazing Grace.”
Students’ Society Vice-President External Myriam Zaidi, who attended the forum along with SSMU President Zach Newburgh, said the event was very relevant to McGill students, whom she urged to help out in Montreal communities.
“Students at McGill know how to fundraise and get things done,” she said. “They’re university students and they should do what they can for youth in Montreal.”