MONTREAL -- A new coalition is calling for the Montreal police budget to be cut in half, with the money reinvested into community programs.

"It's time for us to be able to make our own programs to protect our people," said Stephanie Germain of the group Hoodstock, a community organization in Montreal North.

"Every time people call the police, the youth don't feel safe, because it becomes like a confrontation instead of a conversation."

Calls to defund police forces have gained increasing support in North America since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in late May. Supporters say it's a way to improve community safety and address systemic racism within the police force.

The new group, Coalition to Defund the Police, brings together dozens of Montreal community organizations, including Black Lives Matter Montreal, Hoodstock, the Native Women's Shelter of Montreal and Stella Montreal.

The group gathered in Nelson Mandela Park in Cote-des-Neiges Tuesday morning to explain its plan, calling for multiple measures, including:

  • cutting the city's police budget by half, or $665 million, and redirecting that funding into Black, Indigenous and other “oppressed” communities
  • disarming Montreal police
  • decriminalizing sex work and drugs
  • eliminating certain police operations they say disproportionately target oppressed communities, including random street checks. 

The group said mandating police to wear body cameras and hiring more Black and Indigenous police officers is not enough. 

"We've known for many, many years that Indigenous people here in Montreal are racially profiled. They experience a lot of police violence," said Jessica Quijano of the Native Women's Shelter.

A recent study of SPVM data found that Black and Indigenous people were four to five times more likely to be stopped by police than others. For Indigenous women, it's almost 11 times more.

"I really hope they do listen to us and no longer do these small reforms that really don't lead to much," said Quijano.

There are many situations where police intervention is not required at all, said Germain.

A key point is the call for better handling of people with mental health problems, particularly from racialized communities. The coalition said those are situations that don't call for violence or shootings but for de-escalation. 

Montreal city council has not voted on defunding police, but a similar measure was rejected by Toronto city council last week.

- With files from The Canadian Press