A Diaspora Rises Against Police Brutality

Canadians protest racial profiling in Quebec.

Montreal, Quebec, houses the largest Haitian population in Canada. As of the country’s latest census there are over 100,000 people of Haitian origin living in the city. Moreover, since the earthquake in Haiti in 2010, Montreal has become a viable destination for many people as they try to escape the circumstances in their home country and the number of Haitians in Montreal is only expected to increase.

Interestingly, many of Montreal’s leaders have been instrumental, both politically and economically, in helping obtain and deliver resources to Haiti. Yet, despite this sense of unity stemming from the earthquake, the Haitian community in Montreal has historically found itself alienated from more affluent groups.  In fact, the majority of Haitian-Canadians live in Montreal-Nord, a low-income neighborhood that is largely composed of people of color and often regarded as unofficial neighborhood in the city. As Angus Sharpe detailed in his article in The McGill Daily, when Montreal-Nord was incorporated into Montreal proper in 2002:

[It] was the only borough not to retain its logo, and its… slogan, “The strengths of the citizens are the strength of the city.”

Sharpe continues to explain that, as a result of abandoning the slogan the borough “feel[s] forgotten… [and] seems to be lacking a strong identity.” In addition, the neighborhood is physically removed from the city, with no running subway and residents having to rely on multiple buses to get around. These sentiments have left residents of Montreal-Nord, most of whom are Haitian, feeling as though they need to defend their neighborhood and their own well-being. Issues of police brutality and marginalization are ones Haitian-Canadians face.

Details have yet to arise from this incident but – like the experience of many minorities who reside in low-income neighborhoods – the underlying socio-economic and racial constructs of the Haitian community in Montreal-Nord continue to impact how these people are treated by dominant groups. These forces came to a head when Montreal Police shot and killed Fredy Villanueva, invigorating activists to address the issue of police brutality directly. One local youth group has burgeoned from the community’s challenges and has begun to organize in the hopes of creating a meaningful social movement. Montreal Nord Republik (M-NR) seeks to “harness the energy from the periphery [community] in a movement involved in the development of policy alternatives in Montreal.” The group strives to achieve this goal by bringing people together to participate in public demonstrations, educating and informing victims of social injustice, and striving to give a voice to the voiceless.

As the organization makes strides against racial profiling and police brutality, its desire to create a robust social movement invites those who wish to get involved quickly. To begin with, unlike other Canadian cities, Montreal does not have a police-monitoring program, and so there is also an issue of policy at play here. Therefore, the best and most effective way for people to get involved may be to demand a better checks and balances system of police from policy makers at the city-level.

by Malika Quemerais

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6 Comments

  1. Keisha

     /  December 3, 2012

    Awesome posting. Your article reveals the diasporic nature of the police brutality issue. While living in America we tend to only focus on our domestic issues but awareness of these same issues in other lands is extremely valuable information. This knowledge could fuel collaborative efforts in finding a solution and encouraging dialogue. Thank you!!

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  2. Ian

     /  December 6, 2012

    With the noted lack of transport communications, one wonders what the reasons for incorporating Montreal-Nord into Montreal were, and what incentives were offered to the people of Montreal-Nord. Were those incentives, if any, ever delivered? Was a referendum on the incorporation offered to the residents before hand? And would it now be possible for the residents of Montreal-Nord to remove themselves and reconstitute themselves as their own municipality, taking on the responsibility for policing on themselves?

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  3. Tori Lucas

     /  December 9, 2012

    Great piece. We often have a myopic point of view on issues that exist in places outside of these United States. This write-up covers a few issues: police brutality; immigration and systemic isolation of minorities. Hopefully your piece will raise international awareness, and begin creating change. I do hope that at a minimum a monitoring system for the police can be created to deal with the police brutality issues that are occurring in Montreal-Nord.

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  4. Tanzeem

     /  December 12, 2012

    great article. as a community organizer who does anti police work i center my work around an analysis of policing which focuses on the abolition of policing in order to create community control over safety. the institution of policing grew from slave patrols and as such is inherently racist. in addition to that the police are the foot soldiers of capitalism and it is there job to protect and serve property and those who own property and it is also their job to oppress and murder us. I hope that eventually groups doing work around policing gain a more radical perspective and push for abolishing policing, not just reforming it.

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  5. Imani

     /  December 13, 2012

    To echo what was previously mentioned, it is oftentimes easy for us to become isolated in the injustices that happen in the United States. This piece proves evident that the plight of people of color transcends borders. I recall similar dynamics to what has transpired in Montreal-Nord, in Villa Mella, a municipality in Santo Domingo, DR. The contested tension and realities of Haitian and Afro-Dominicans within this community are very similar because of their ethnicity and color. In an ideal world this veil of ignorance will disappear but bringing information like this to the fore continues the conversation and raises awareness.

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  6. Julia B

     /  December 15, 2012

    This is a great post. It’s definitely interesting to learn more about police issues across borders; as others pointed out, often we don’t think outside of our own issues to realize things such as police brutality are widespread. One would hope in these times that people would start to work together to solve social issues rather than continue to isolate the disadvantaged. It is time to recognize that those with different backgrounds and those we may be conditioned to consider “outsiders” are truly of the same cloth as us. Reforming police forces and granting equal access to public services are both good places to start in order to ensure equal opportunities for existence. Thanks for the article!

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