Montréal has a bizarre problem with crime. It’s hard to describe it without getting bogged down in seemingly contradictory nuance and jargon relating to crime statistics throughout the city. For most of the last century, Montréal, owing to its combination as port city, Canadian metropolis and Sin City appeal have resulted in a long and colourful history when it comes to crime. For instance, we have a retardedly low homicide rate but are also a focal point for the illicit gun and narcotics trade, which is in itself largely thanks to our massive, strategic port, in addition to the presence of several Aboriginal reserves (especially Akwasasne, which is in essence a backdoor for smugglers into the States). We have had a gang problem since as far back as anyone can remember, and when you break down the gangs by demographics, there are street level hoods for practically every nation represented in our colourful mosaic of a city. Irish mob, Russian mob, multiple biker gangs, Haitian gangs etc etc (all of which are apparently operating in a weird kind of balance. It wouldn’t surprise me if the Calabrian and Sicilian factions of the Montreal Mafia weren’t themselves organizing a strict division of labour between the various other groups operating here). Perhaps that’s why even the gang-violence rates have been going down (until last year if you count the arson cases which have gripped Little Italy). Rape and other sexual assaults are also on the decline, and so is random petty thefts and assaults in the Métro. Ask anyone who lives here, and they’ll tell you its a safe city.
Now – that being said, here’s some unfortunate truth:
For one, we may be in the midst of a full-scale changing of the guard with regards to which faction is running the Mafia here in Montréal. I read a fascinating article to that effect by Alessandro Amerigo on Viceland, which can be accessed here.
Kristian Gravenor, over at Coolopolis, (always a bevy of the lurid and amazing re: crime in the city), has put this video together of interviews with a former street gang leader and local criminologist, with a focus on the Haitian Street Gangs.
The key here is that we’re essentially dealing with what initially started out as loose organizations of people who were trying to level a very unequal playing field. Nowadays it’s different, it’s all about the coin, but there’s a ounce of truth to the idea that these gangs and criminal organizations got their start as a means to protect immigrant communities from abuse. As Montréal is a cosmopolitan, international city, we’ll always have a gang problem.
But why does it seem as though the SPVM isn’t terribly good at catching and prosecuting gang leaders and mob bosses? Why do we have such a hard time keeping a lid on gang violence? One would think that we’d have had enough experience by now to have figured out excellent ways of combating these problems.
Ultimately, it seems to me that the SPVM is quite talented at killing people in exceptionally suspicious circumstances, and then covering up any malfeasance with an enforced code of silence, brought to you by the Police Brotherhood – which itself, much like the Mob, tries to innocently present itself as a benevolent organization that takes care of police widows etc. I can’t remember the last time a Montréal cop was killed in the line of duty.
You’d think that with the mechanisms we have in place vis-a-vis law enforcement (ie – a police union that never turns on its own backed up by a total lack of an internal affairs dept. along with a thoroughly complicit Sureté de Québec and close ties with quasi-Separatist labour unions) would allow the SPVM to prosecute street gangs and criminal organizations with near impunity while exercising extreme prejudice. But alas they don’t. Instead, innocent immigrants, minorities and people biking to work get popped and the word on the street is nil – it’s not your business and you have no comment, lest you want to feel the wrath of the Police Brotherhood.
Almost makes you think the big-league crimes that happen here do so because they’re occasionally allowed to happen. The ultimate in collusion and corruption may be the same apparatus that keeps the general crime rate low. I don’t want to believe this is the case, but sometimes I wonder why a city like ours continues to have to deal with various inter-gang flare-ups of violence. If the Vice article is in any way legitimate, we may have to deal a major spike in violence, akin to the late-1970s when the Sicilians ‘bought-out’ the Calabrians to take control of the local Mafia and its business. Those were dark days, and the people must do whatever they can to prevent such a war from starting again. The question is are we willing to give the SPVM a carte-blanche to wipe out the problem?
How far are we willing to let them go to protect us all?