Quebec amps up policing on gun violence but frontline workers want more support

Public Security Minister Geneviève Guilbault says Quebec will expand the SPVM's gun squad to collaborate with the SQ. Community groups and social workers say they need more resources and increased policing still isn't the answer.

While police forces plan crackdown on gangs and guns, community workers say a different approach is needed

Quebec's Public Security Minister Geneviève Guilbault says the province is stepping up its efforts to fight shootings in Montreal by boosting a special squad dedicated to reducing gun violence. (CBC)

After a drive-by shooting left three men dead and two injured in Rivière-des-Praires this week, Quebec's public security minister has announced that provincial police will join a special Montreal police squad to fight gun violence. 

Geneviève Guilbault says the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM) and the Sûreté du Québec (SQ) will work together in the ELTA anti-gun squad. The goal is co-ordinate prevention efforts, investigate shootings and prevent gun trafficking.

"I want to assure all citizens, all Montrealers, all Quebecers that we're taking action," Guilbault said.

The news is meant to reassure Montrealers, but community workers in Rivière-des-Prairies say providing options to youth would be more effective than a police crackdown on guns and gangs.

Guilbault says she knows a broad approach is needed. Officials from her ministry will meet regularly with their counterparts in Montreal to build a plan that will also include community groups and social workers.

Preventing further violence also requries initiatives to address inequality among young people, Guilbault said.

Community groups say more cops isn't the answer

Pierreson Vaval, director of a non-profit group called Équipe RDP, works with young people in the neighbourhood where Monday's shooting took place.

He says his organization is trying to address the root of the problem by organizing social and recreational activities for young people, but it needs more funding and more co-operation from the community.

Pierreson Vaval, director of Équipe RDP, says community organizations like his need more funding and support from local politicians and all levels of government to prevent the kids they work with from getting caught up in criminal activity. He says youth workers have a lot on their shoulders and need more resources to be able to make more of a difference in the lives of marginalized young people. (Alex Leduc/CBC)

"All our youth workers are saying the same thing since last year," he said. "They see the kids, the youth are marginalized..."

Vaval says his youth workers need community support, and that everyone, "the police, the schools, the politicians...need to listen" and to provide more resources.

Xanya Boncy, an intervention worker and mediator for Hoodstock in Montréal-Nord, says the last year of lockdowns and curfews has made life even tougher for youth.

"We've seen during the pandemic, a rise in mental health issues and even violence."

Boncy says she wants the government to lay out a clear plan of action to limit access to guns: "And I didn't hear that today."

While she agrees that everyone deserves to feel safe, Boncy says having more officers on the street doesn't necessarily provide a sense of security for those living in Black and marginalized communities.

"There's a lot of tension not only in the gangs but also there's a lot of tension with the police," she said.

Boncy says it's important to acknowledge that racism and racial profiling persist, and that while social workers might not be able to replace police entirely, they can play a crucial role in preventing violence and resolving conflict.

"We need to work in way where we can prevent people from getting into gangs and prevent people from getting access to guns more than to react to that."

WATCH | Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante on the need for a community approach:

Montreal mayor says police need to work with community organizations to reduce gun violence

1 year ago
Duration 2:04
​Valérie Plante said collaboration between these groups can help address systemic issues facing marginalized people.

The police plan

Police chief Sylvain Caron says going forward there will be two full-time teams covering the northeast and southwest parts of Montreal.

He says officers will investigate firearm possession, attempted murders and other related offences as part of the SPVM's organized crime section.

Mayor Valérie Plante applauded the efforts of local police and the SQ as well as the initiative of Guilbault to expand Quebec's efforts to crack down on gun crimes.

She also called on the federal government to step up its security at provincial and international borders, saying that a lot of the guns that make their way the city come from Ontario and the United States.

With files from Alex Leduc and Rowan Kennedy