Montreal North inaugurates Place de l'Espoir in honour of Fredy Villanueva

Ten years since 18-year-old Fredy Villanueva was shot and killed by police in Montreal North, a small area at the southeast end of Henri-Bourassa Park was inaugurated in memory of the teen and the riots that followed.

Borough Mayor Christine Black says there is still plenty of work to be done for Montreal North residents

The Sept. 21 inauguration of Place de l'Espoir, or Hope Place, attracted roughly 100 people, many wearing a shirt in honour of the 18-year-old Fredy Villanueva who was shot and killed by police 10 years ago. (Navneet Pall/CBC )

Ten years since 18-year-old Fredy Villanueva was shot and killed by police in Montreal North, a small area at the southeast end of Henri-Bourassa Park was inaugurated in memory of the teen and the riots that followed his death.

Held on the International Day of Peace with roughly 100 people in attendance, Saturday's inauguration of Place de l'Espoir, or Hope Place, honoured the events of the past while looking toward a better future.

It will be a place where "tomorrow is built," says borough Mayor Christine Black in a city-issued press release.

It will be a space where the thousands of youth who frequent the Montreal North neighbourhood every day can "meet, express themselves, feel free and believe in the future."

After lobbying for years for the memorial, community activist Will Prosper told CBC it has been a long and frustrating fight to establish the memorial to Villanueva — a Honduran immigrant who was unarmed when killed by police on Aug. 9, 2008.

The day after he was killed, a peaceful vigil erupted into bonfires in the streets, looting and car torching. It ended with more than 70 arrests, several injured emergency personnel and deep-seated discord in a low-income and diverse community.

Located in a small area at the southeast end of Henri-Bourassa Park, the new place has benches, patio stones and more. (Navneet Pall/CBC )

Eventually, the Quebec government reformed how police shootings are investigated.

Regardless of the changes since Villanueva's death, Prosper said today's youth are still battling issues such as racial profiling and poverty.

A much-needed discussion

Bochra Manaï, who works with local youth, said the dialogue between city officials and concerned citizens took years to get underway since the teen was killed, but discussions have been building in recent months.

As the 10-year anniversary approached, she said talks between police, elected officials, community leaders and youth organizations have evolved from Villanueva's death to the broader issues faced by minority groups and young people today.

A vigil for Fredy Villanueva the night after his death turned violent, with bonfires set in the streets, cars torched and dozens of people arrested. Paramedics were hurt, and a police officer was shot in the leg. (CBC)

"It was sometimes hard and really emotional, but what you've seen today, I cannot describe it," Manaï said. "Today, everyone was here."

A place where hope can flourish

The plaque in Villanueva's honour quotes the Quebec coroner's report that says Villanueva did not deserve to die.

It describes the park as a gathering place — a place where hope can flourish.

At first, Villanueva's name was not to be mentioned in Place de l'Espoir as city officials like Black said many people opposed the idea of a mural or a monument in his honour.

Place de l'Espoir, or Hope Place, was inaugurated on Sept. 21, the International Day of Peace. The first line of the plaque mentions Fredy Villanueva and the riots that followed his death in Montreal North. (Navneet Pall/CBC)

However, Black explained, discussions in the community continued throughout the summer and the decision was made to honour Villanueva while establishing a public place that acknowledges the struggles faced by so many Montreal North residents — a community, she says, that has had good times as well as difficult times.

A look to the future

After cutting the ribbon on Place de l'Espoir, Black said,  "We had to sort this situation out — do something so we could move on."

Looking forward, Black said there is still work to be done as members of the community still struggle with exclusion, unemployment, housing and more.

"We have to work very hard as a community," she said.

The inauguration is a "page-turning" event, she added, that will help the community to "move forward together."

With files from Navneet Pall