Police investigating anti-gentrification link after luxury cars torched in Saint-Henri

Montreal police are looking into whether the suspected torching of four cars on a street in the city's Saint-Henri neighbourhood was an act of anti-gentrification arson.

The cars were parked outside a condo building bordering the Lachine Canal

Witnesses told police two cars were set on fire on Friday in the early morning and when police arrived on the small St-Henri street, the fire had spread to two more. (Derek Marinos/CBC)

Montreal police are looking into whether the suspected torching of four cars on a street in the city's Saint-Henri neighbourhood was an act of anti-gentrification arson.

Police received a call around 3:45 a.m. Friday after two higher-end cars — a BMW and an Audi — were deliberately torched on Léa Roback Street, which borders the Lachine Canal.

When they arrived minutes later, the fire had spread to two more vehicles. No one was injured.

Witnesses told police they saw a man run away, but couldn't provide more of a description of the suspect. 

Montreal police Cmdr. Sylvain Parent said the type of cars that were targeted, an Audi and a BMW, suggest an anti-gentrification motive for the arson. (CBC)
Montreal police Cmdr. Sylvain Parent said investigators are considering the possibility that the cars were targeted by anti-gentrification radicals.

"The fact it happens in Saint-Henri, with all the events that have happened before regarding gentrification, it's one of our hypotheses, but it's too early in the investigation," he said.

"BWM, Audi — they represent a certain high standing."

A number of Saint-Henri businesses, mostly on Notre-Dame Street, have had been vandalized in recent years by people opposed to the historically working class neighbourhood's shift towards condominiums and upscale restaurants and shops.

Parent said police are still investigating those incidents, but solving the crimes has been tricky because those responsible are "quite organized."

He said police have increased their visibility in the neighbourhood in response to the attacks, but it's hard to stop people who want to commit crimes.

"If there's someone who wants to do something and they see a police officer pass, they'll wait until we pass by," he said. 

"If they really want to do something, they'll do it anyway."

Residents see troubling trend

Pierre Vérroneau, an 11-year resident of Saint-Henri, saw the torched cars as an escalation of that fight against gentrification.

Pierre Véronneau saw the torching of the four cars as an escalation in the fight against gentrification in Saint-Henri to an 'attack on individuals.' (Antoni Nerestant/CBC)
"First we had them tagging buildings, then they choose to attack shops," he said. "Now they are attacking individuals — attacking cars is attacking individuals, the people that they don't like that live around here."

Gerry Zion, a resident on the street, said his first thought was, "Is Notre-Dame [Street] coming here?" 

Another resident, Anna Maria Henderson, saw the damage when she woke up around 7 a.m.

From her window, she could see the mangled cars and "police all over."

"It's really sad to see," Henderson said.

"Police were asking residents to exit their apartment buildings out the back," she added.

Danielle Boivin, another neighbour, said she's considering moving after 14 years in Saint-Henri.

"It's not the first time something happens around here, but this is a big one, I find," she said.

'It's still Saint-Henri'

One of the burned cars was a Prius that belonged to Sylvie Lavoie's boyfriend. The BMW parked behind it was the one targeted, but it ended up engulfing his, "which is the most damaged of all," she said.
Two high-end vehicles and those parked near them became engulfed in flame Friday morning. (Derek Marinos/CBC)

"It's not a good morning," she said. "While we live in Saint-Henri, I didn't know it was that bad. I didn't know people were capable of doing this for no reason."

Lavoie said her boyfriend's tools for his construction business were in the car.

She said there's been damage to cars, and thefts too, but nothing like Friday's torching. 

"It shows how this neighbourhood is up and coming, but then it's still Saint-Henri," she said.

With files from CBC's Derek Marinos and Verity Stevenson