Ariel Fournier | jhrConcordia
The family members of six victims of police killings held a vigil and a march against police brutality in partnership with coalitions around Montreal on Saturday, October 22.
The march was held on the North American Day To Stop Police Brutality and Repression, to commemorate the six family members and others who have died from tasering, beating and unprovoked shootings.
Groups such as No One is Illegal, Head and Hands, QPIRG and Stella all endorsed the rally.
No One is Illegal member and organizer of the rally, Robyn Maynard, has been promoting this cause along with Project X, an activist program “supporting youth surviving institutional racism and racial profiling.”
“I don’t think that you can really do the nitty-gritty of migrant justice solidarity without challenging the fact that there is extreme police violence and a lot of racial profiling from the police and towards migrant communities,” said Maynard.
Media Co-op journalist Tim McSorley attended the rally and said the event is held in part to combat racism and profiling because the police killings stem from a systemic problem.
“If it was only about shooting people, we’d just be arguing that cops shouldn’t have guns, but it’s more about the inherent problems that exist in the system right now. There’s racial profiling, social profiling and political profiling that leads to police abuse, and I think that’s what involves groups like Head and Hands and No One is Illegal and the Immigrant Workers Union.”
In an effort to combat what Maynard described as the “systemic impunity” of the police force, the rally demanded routine independent inquiries into police killings and the enforcement of coroner recommendations following incidents of that are found to have resulted from police brutality. Participants also demanded more formal charges be layed against attackers.
The event website cites that out of 300 police killings in Quebec, and 63 in Montreal, two cases have been investigated and on both occasions charges were dropped.
Julie Matson who attended the rally fought for a public inquest into her father’s death. She attended the rally on behalf of Ben Matson, who was beaten to death in downtown Vancouver.
Julie Matson, then aged 26, represented herself in court against three city appointed police lawyers. The inquest occurred several years after a crowd of more than fifty people saw her father kicked and beaten by five police officers and put in a police hold that caused him to choke on his own stomach contents.
“There was no accountability for how he died at the end of the public inquest,” said Matson.
The other family members in attendance have also repeatedly asked for investigation into their relatives’ deaths.
Lilian Villanueva attended the rally on behalf of her son, Fredy Villanueva, whose death is currently under coroner investigation. Her son Danny is also currently facing potential deportation, which activists have condemned as a tactic of intimidation related to the case.
Police shot Mohamed Anas Bennis twice when he stopped on a walk home from his mosque. Family members were suspicious of police claims that Bennis attacked officers suddenly with a knife. A video of the incident was not made available to the family or shown publicly.
Quilem Registre, Gladys Tolley and Claudio Castagnetta also had family members represent them at the rally. Matson said she regularly meets with the other family victims since they first met at a panel on police brutality in January.
Maynard of No One is Illegal said the rally was the first police brutality protest in Montreal organized with the partnership of victim’s family members.
“I think the power of this march and this vigil with all these families together is that the media had to take note and take seriously what the families were saying, which hasn’t always happened historically.”
Though this is the first Montreal march against police brutality held on October 22, residents may be familiar with the March 15 police brutality protest that garners much media attention each year.
“I’m very supportive of the March 15 rally, but wanted to have something that was family friendly,” said Maynard.
The event often became a stage for police conflict. Dee Lecompte, a member of Coalition Contre la Brutalité Policier, no longer attends the rally.
“I don’t want to go anymore because I think the risk of getting arrested is too high. I support people who go, but you know I’m getting older and I can’t always run away from the cops. I also think some of the anger there is too high. I’m not talking about the organizers but some people are there because they’re just angry.”
Lecompte also said that the media have already imposed a narrative onto the event regardless of action.
“A couple hours before the demonstration and they’re already insulting it on CBC, saying, ‘Oh yes, the violent march.’ They’re already saying what’s it’s going to be and they’re marginalizing the people even further.”
In contrast, Maynard said media attention from the October 22 rally was mostly positive and the event did garner broad national media attention.
“I think that what people face with violence and especially police killings is isolation, and I think that this was a really powerful way to break that isolation.”