After girl's death in drive-by shooting, Montreal police launch anti-firearm trafficking squad
MONTREAL -- Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante is calling on Ottawa to take stronger action on gun control after the tragic death on Sunday of a 15-year-old girl caught in the middle of a shooting in the borough of Saint-Leonard.
Plante told the executive committee on Wednesday that municipalities cannot assume sole responsibility for combatting the rise in armed violence and the trafficking of firearms.
She is calling on Ottawa to take action to limit the possession of handguns, as it has recently done for assault weapons.
She is also calling for federal measures to better control the traffic and circulation of firearms in the country.
The death of young Meriem Boundaoui during a drive-by shooting on Sunday evening had drawn new attention to the problem of armed violence in Montreal, which, according to Mayor Plante, has been on the rise for a year.
She said that the city and its police service are, for their part, already taking concrete measures.
The newest specialized team of police, known as ELTA, will focus on firearm trafficking, and will include 30 officers, who will work to dismantle gun trafficking networks.
Plante says there’s an increased number of illegal firearms being used by many people in Montreal.
However criminologist Maria Mourani believes Montreal Police should also bring back the Eclipse Squad, a unit that focused on street gangs.
“There has to be an expertise on street gangs to differentiate between real gang members and wannabes,” she said.
ELTA is the second squad established by the Montreal police in two years, focused specifically on guns.
Another specialized squad called Quietude, consisting of 20 SPVM officers, was launched in 2019 to crack down on gun crime. Between November 2019 and December 5 2020 SPVM says in firearm trafficking investigations it responded to 153 calls related to firearms and made 103 arrests. They confiscated 44 guns.
But Concordia professor Ted Rutland wrote a report last fall that looked into the arrests made by the squad, and he found many of the squad’s arrests were not for gun crimes at all.
“Looking at the actions of the original gun squad a year-and-a-half ago we find that 75 per cent of the people charged by the anti gun squad were black and disproportionately for offences that had nothing to do with guns,” he said. “Less than 30 per cent of charges had anything to do with guns. Most of them were for low-level drug offences.”
Rutland says focusing another police unit on gun trafficking misses the mark.
“We’ve missed the question of ‘why would anyone procure a gun in the first place’ and ‘why would people use a gun if they had one’,” he said. “ If we ask those two questions then we start to talk about how do we create the conditions so no one would ever feel like they need to own a gun for protection. That would involve addressing situations of poverty and racial discrimination.”
Community groups including Equipe RDP say the best solution to gun violence, is to reach out to at-risk youth.
“It’s a cyclical problem we see every two, five, four years that coming back on the east end of Montreal because we’re not putting on, targeting the source of the problem,” said Pierreson Vaval.
Vaval says having more youth workers and increasing school resources would help.
“If we want to prevent these types of situation to happen again we have to work with our kids in the schools, our youth in the schools, our youth that drop out of school,” he said.
Quebec’s public security minister, Genevieve Guilbault, noted Wednesday that since last fall around the provincial government announced more than $5M would go to the SPVM to help the force fight firearms selling and smuggling, and gun violence.
Guilbault says the investment was important but it’s not enough.
“We also have to address other issues, education, access to programs to community organizations, housing and things like that,” she said. “There are a lot of problems that should be addressed to prevent getting to that tragedy we saw last week.”
Plante is also asking the Quebec government for more money for mixed patrols, which pair police officers with social workers to answer calls.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 10, 2021. With reporting from CTV News Montreal's Matt Grillo and Angela MacKenzie