Despite calls to defund police, Montreal sets aside more for SPVM in 2021 than it did last year

Despite recent calls to defund Montreal's police force, the city plans to allocate more funds to the public security sector in 2021 than it set aside in 2020. 

Montreal's 2021 budget presentation was delayed on Thursday when a coalition showed up to protest the SPVM's sizeable budget, the police killings of Black Montrealers, and the force's tendency towards racial profiling that was detailed in a 2019 report

"This is a plea for you to listen to us, because we've tried every other way for you all to listen to us... politicians that we elect," said Jessica Quijano, from Iskweu, a project linked to the Native Women's Shelter of Montreal.

"They're supposed to represent us and they're not listening." 

The group sang "No justice, no peace, defund the police," between chanting the names of Black Montrealers who have been killed by the SPVM, including Sheffield Matthews, a father who was killed last week in the Notre-Dame-de-Grace borough (NDG). 

At the time, NDG Mayor Sue Montgomery said her heart ached for the man and the other Black men who died under similar circumstances in her borough. 

On the weekend, Black Lives Matter held a rally in NDG in which a group walked to the site of Matthews' death. At the time, the group also detailed its request to divert police funding.

GROUP WANTS SPVM BUDGET CUT IN HALF

The group that protested on Thursday is calling on the city to cut the SPVM's budget in half and to reinvest the money -- which would be about $340 million -- in community services.

A chart representing the distribution of the city's funds for the year 2021 shows that the public security sector will receive 17.6 per cent of the city's overall $6.17 billion budget -- the largest amount of any of the city's sectors, followed closely by debt servicing, at 17.2 per cent. 

Public transit is set to receive the third-most funding, at 10.4 per cent.

The city's public security sector comprises both the Montreal fire department and the SPVM. According to the city's plan, $350.5 million will go towards the fire department for the year 2021, and $679.1 million will go to the SPVM.

That represents an increase of more than $14 million from the 2020 budget as presented last year.

However, the city projects that its real funding to police in the 2020 fiscal year will end up totalling $689 million, an increase of over $25 million from what was planned.

CITY CANCELS MEETING BUT SAYS 'EXCHANGES WILL CONTINUE'

The coalition calling to defund the SPVM is made up of 57 community organizations, including sex workers and advocates for the homeless, as well as social and cultural groups.

The group had a meeting set up with the city to discuss how the money could be reinvested last Monday, it said, but the city cancelled. 

"We have communities that don't have enough health and social services, no investments, but there are a lot of investments in the police," said Marhilan Lopez of the coalition. 

At the start of the presentation on Thursday, Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante acknowledged the protester's presence. 

"I think it’s important to start by mentioning the particular situation we’ve found ourselves in to present the budget," Plante said. "These are subjects that we’re not only comfortable with, but that we believe." 

"Our exchanges will continue, we will discuss with this group as well as others," she added. 

Plante has said she would be open to reviewing how the SPVM is funded and that her administration will look for alternative approaches to the use of weapons -- and for community responses that could replace interventions. 

The protesters said they weren't happy with the city's willingness to talk so far.

"The city refused to speak to us," said Sandra Wesley, also from the coalition.

"We came into the press conference, disrupted it a little bit, but then we wanted to sit down and listen. We wanted to hear them tell us to our face what they’re doing with the budget of our city.”

The city's budget plan says that in 2021, its officers will "continue to be a key player in the management of the crisis linked to COVID-19." 

It also says the force will act "on the systemic components of social and racial profiling," in addition to working with partners on issues surrounding homelessness, mental health, and the mistreatment of seniors. 

PLANTE FACING INCREASING PRESSURE ON POLICING

In June, a report by the Office de consultation publique (OCPM) said the city of Montreal failed to recognize systemic racism and discrimination on its territory, prompting Plante to pledge to take action.

“Thanks to this report we have a roadmap to guide our efforts,” she said during a news conference to address the document, which contained 11 main findings and 38 recommendations for the city.

Plante acknowledged the report’s first recommendation was for the city to recognize the prevalence of systemic racism and discrimination throughout Montreal.

“Starting today, at city council, I will propose a statement to recognize the systemic nature of racism and discrimination,” she said at the time. “I’m committed to implementing systemic solutions to these systemic problems.” 

Since then, Plante created the role of a commissoner for the fight against racism and systemic discrimination. 

The OCPM report said the prevalence of racial and social profiling -- proved by years of documentation -- will continue in Montreal until the upper management of the SPVM and its culture is called into question and forced to change. 

The SPVM later released a street check policy, but several Montrealers criticized it as being vague and meaningless. 

Others pointed out that the city only acted on racial profiling and discrimination because a citizen-led initiative sparked by its inaction forced it to. 

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