Montreal mayor, police chief call for calm after riot

Montreal Mayor Gérald Tremblay vowed to improve strained relations between police and residents in a northern neighbourhood where rioters attacked authorities, torched cars and looted stores Sunday night following a weekend shooting that left a teenager dead.

6 people arrested after street violence erupts in neighbourhood where police shot teenager

Montreal butcher Carmene Ruzzo stands outside his vandalized store after weekend rioting in the city's north end. ((Peter McCabe/Canadian Press))

Montreal Mayor Gérald Tremblay vowed to improve strained relations between police and residents in a northern neighbourhood where rioters attacked authorities, torched cars and looted stores Sunday night following a weekend shooting by police that left a teenager dead.

"I feel very bad. I feel really upset, and I'm not going to tolerate what has happened on the weekend," Tremblay said, about 12 hours after an overnight riot rocked Montreal North. "Let's make sure it doesn't happen again.

"It's not only a question of saying that we're a secure city, we got to make sure that the perception is there also, and we will not tolerate incidents of violence in Montreal," he added.

Tremblay urged restraint in the wake of the riot that broke out late Sunday night that injured four public security workers, including a police officer who was shot in the leg.

'We have to work very hard to convince everyone that we're there to help them.'— Yvan Delorme, Montreal police chief

Roving packs of people took to the streets, plundered stores, pelted firefighters with beer bottles and set several fires after local residents gathered to protest the death of Fredy Villanueva, 18, who was shot dead by police on Saturday night. 

Efforts have been made over the years to build bridges in the community but "maybe we can improve what we're doing," Tremblay said.

His overture echoed Montreal police Chief Yvan Delorme, who called for calm as investigators piece together the events that led to Sunday's riot. 

"They want to send society a message, and I received that message," Delorme said at a news conference Monday morning.

Police are ready to do whatever is needed to bolster their standing in the largely immigrant and working-class community, even though Delorme said he's not convinced that the tension is as widespread as reports suggest.

Montreal police Chief Yvan Delorme (left) and Montreal North community leader Pierreson Vaval speak at a news conference on Monday. ((Graham Hugues/Canadian Press))
"I don't think it's a general feeling from all the citizens," he said. "But we have to work very hard to convince everyone that we're there to help them, and work with them to protect people."

Community groups say police have a long road ahead to restore confidence among residents who generally don't trust authorities.

Police "have a certain way of doing their [outreach] work, and they think they're doing it well, but it has a negative impact on the community," said Pierreson Vaval, who heads a community youth group in the area.

The shooting and subsequent riot was caused by a "miscommunication problem" that has bred mistrust toward police, Vaval said. 

"When you have a force that has by law the right to arrest you and kill you, you have to have confidence. If you don't have confidence, this force is an enemy for people at risk in that community. We have to create another dynamic."

Vaval suggested the weekend events reflect racial tension plaguing Quebec society. 

"If we didn't find racial profiling in society, then we wouldn't find it in the police force. If we don't orient them to what we think is the relevant intervention — I think they're seeing today that [people] have a limit, and the limit is this."

MP Denis Coderre admits there is frustration in his riding, but said the neighbourhood is generally peaceful.

"We have to be careful not to mix the fact you have some people who light fires, with the [police] situation on Saturday," he told CBC News. "We have to make sure we keep the communication lines open, and it doesn't degenerate."

Peaceful protest turns sour 

Rioters lobbed propane tank fireballs and Molotov cocktails, and fired guns in the neighbourhood after Sunday's peaceful community demonstration turned ugly.

Montreal police officers search for evidence in the debris left by weekend rioting in the city's north end. ((Peter McCabe/Canadian Press))
The clash was sparked by protesters who doused and ignited eight parked cars near a fire station. Rioters then lit dozens of garbage-can fires, filling the streets with thick, acrid smoke.

They threw beer bottles at fire trucks and firefighters, while others rushed a nearby commercial strip, and looted more than 20 businesses, including a pawn shop, convenience store and butcher shop.

Men and women of all ages were seen running down the street hugging television sets, cartons of cigarettes and raw meat.

Three-metre-high fireballs from burning propane tanks illuminated the looters as they stormed the streets.

Canadian Press reported seeing an elderly woman carrying a stereo and laughing with her friend as they made their escape. Other looters were seen sipping beer grabbed from a nearby convenience store,

More than 500 officers in full riot gear descended on the district early Monday morning, and eventually restored calm.

Three police officers were injured during the clashes, including the police woman who's recovering from a gunshot wound.

An ambulance technician was injured when a Molotov cocktail hit him in the head.

Police arrested six people for breaking and entering, drug possession and other undisclosed charges.

Neighbourhood on edge

Villanueva's death Saturday night was the catalyst for Sunday's riot. The teen died from gunshot wounds in hospital after facing off with police in a park.

Cars and garbage bags were set ablaze on several streets during the rioting. (CBC)
Montreal police say the officers were trying to arrest an individual during a routine intervention in Henri-Bourassa Park when they were surrounded by a group of about 20 young people. 

A few people allegedly broke away from the group and rushed the officers, Delorme said.

According to police, one of the officers then opened fire and three people were shot, including Villanueva, 18.

Two other victims, an 18- and a 20-year-old, are in hospital in stable condition.

No police were injured in the incident. Provincial police have taken over the investigation because the shooting involved officers and civilians.

With files from the Canadian Press