Quebec unveils $90M plan to deal 'unprecedented blow' to gun violence

The Quebec government is devoting $90 million to help fight gun violence and gun trafficking, and it hopes to eventually deal a crushing blow to criminal groups in the Montreal area and elsewhere in the province.

Province wants more collaboration among police forces in Quebec

Quebec deputy premier and Public Security Minister Geneviève Guilbault says the government wants to put an end to recent incidents of gun violence in the Montreal area and elsewhere in the province. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

Quebec Public Security Minister Geneviève Guilbault has announced more than $90 million in funding meant to help combat gun traffickers and curb a recent trend in gun violence.

During a news conference on Friday, Guilbault said the government needed to send a message that it was fed up with the recent string of shootings in the province, particularly in the cities of Montreal and Laval.

"It's been a few weeks that, almost on a daily basis, or at least every week, we hear stories of shootings, acts of intimidation and shows of force among criminalized groups that want to intimidate each other," Guilbault said. 

"They carry out all types of violent events anytime, anywhere, at whatever time of day or night."

The $90-million investment includes the creation of a Quebec-wide operation called CENTAURE, which will involve more than 20 of the province's police forces, including those in the province's Indigenous communities.

The money will be used in part to hire 107 new specialists: 87 police officers, 15 forensic scientists and five correctional officers — for what the province hopes will be an "unprecedented blow" to illegal firearms networks, Guilbault said.

One of the operation's goals is to strengthen units around the province that are already investigating gun violence. The province also wants to improve collaboration between police forces in Quebec and Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Canada Border Services Agency, Ontario Provincial Police and the United States Department of Homeland Security.

When asked about the seemingly complex nature of the operation, Guilbault said she was optimistic it would not get bogged down by communication breakdowns between the different forces. 

Montreal police Chief Sylvain Caron was among the various representatives of police forces in Quebec that were present during Friday's news conference. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

In the last year, the Quebec government has made several announcements in its fight against gun violence, organized crime and gangs.

Last fall, Guilbault announced plans to devote $65 million in funding to help police forces including the Sûreté du Québec, Montreal police and Quebec City police to investigate gun trafficking.

Last month, the minister said SQ officers would join the Montreal police's anti-gun squad, also known as ELTA. That announcement came just days after a triple homicide in Montreal's east-end Rivière-des-Prairies neighbourhood.

According to Guilbault, attempted murders by way of firearms quadrupled on the island of Montreal between 2016 and 2020.

"It's a statistic that confirms that there is an upsurge," Guilbault said. "At the same time, we don't want to worry citizens [too much]. All in all, we're in a safe city, we're in a safe nation."

As of Saturday, there have been 22 homicides on territory covered by Montreal police this year. There were 25 homicides in 2020, as well as in 2019.

Benoit Dubé, a chief inspector in criminal investigations with the SQ, says a multi-pronged approach is necessary.

"Now we're seeing kids with guns," he said. "We weren't seeing that 10 years ago."

Pierreson Vaval described the situation as a crisis. He is the director of the community group Équipe RDP in Rivière-des-Prairies.

"If we want to find a way to get out of this crisis, we're going to have to invest in the roots of the problem," he said.

Guilbault agrees, but says the first step is to address what is happening now and reassure people the province is acting on gun violence.

"We are sending the message to criminal people that this is enough," she said. "Wherever you are, whoever you are, you'll find a police officer."

With files from Shuyee Lee