MONTREAL -- In a unified show of force, Montreal’s mayor and police chief held a joint press conference Thursday to reassure citizens in the wake of an uptick in shootings in the city’s northeast neighbourhoods.

“Our citizens need to reclaim the peace and security that they deserve,” said Montreal police Chief Sylvain Caron. “They need to feel safe in their neighbourhoods.”

Mayor Valerie Plante is calling on the province to chip in more money to help Montreal community organizations working on the ground. She said in its pre-budget request, the city requested an additional $15 million in public security funds.

“The efforts of community organizations are crucial and they work closely with neighbourhood police as well,” she said.

She explained that while the city has offered financial support to community organizations for many years, she admits it’s never enough.

“It was okay before the pandemic, but now we see how the pandemic has put more pressure on these neighbourhoods and community organizations… we need to do an extra effort.”

Caron also stressed the importance of its partnership with social workers and community groups, to help prevent young people from falling victim to gun violence, or deciding to arm themselves.

On Wednesday, Plante called on Ottawa to take stronger action on gun control, saying the responsibility of combatting the rise in firearm trafficking and gun violence should not fall solely on the shoulders of municipalities. She wants Ottawa to limit the possession of handguns and wants federal measures that would better control the circulation of firearms.

It comes after a string of violent shootings in the city’s northeast end, including a drive-by attack in St-Leonard on Sunday that left a teenage girl dead.

Meriem Boundaoui would have turned 16 next month. She was fatally shot in the head while sitting in a parked car with a friend at around 6 p.m. Sunday. 

According to police, she was caught in the crossfire of an altercation that had nothing to do with her.

A few days later, a man was taken to hospital after being shot outside a restaurant in the city’s far east end, at Sherbrooke St. and 8th Ave., in Pointe-aux-Trembles. 

At the end of January, there were two other shootings in Montreal North that left one man dead, and another hospitalized. 

That same day, a third man was shot in Riviere-des-Prairies, in what was likely an unrelated crime. 

Speaking at Thursday’s press conference, Caron said he met with Meriem Boundaoui’s family and offered his condolences, and assured them Montreal police are ramping up efforts to fight gun crime.

According to Montreal police, the force has increased its presence in the affected neighbourhoods.

Caron said the latest police unit to fight firearms trafficking (ELTA) will being its operations on Feb. 22, and will involve 22 investigators. It’s in addition to another squad called Quietude, launched in 2019, to fight gun violence and seize firearms. 

Inspector David Shane said so far police haven’t been able to pinpoint exactly why there has been an increase in shooting violence in the city but said there are many hypotheses.

“Obviously, there’s always the influence of organized crime, and the proliferation of illegal firearms,” he said.

As for how illegal firearms are getting into Montreal, Shane said there are many possible routes.

“Weapons can come from across the border, they can come from reserves, they can be assembled here in Montreal, bringing in parts and assembling them to distribute them,” he said. “This is why ELTA will be so helpful for us and Montrealers because they will be able to go in-depth into these hypotheses and conduct investigations on the street to be able to make Montrealers feel more safe.”

But some community workers and researchers have criticized the SPVM’s two anti-gun squads.

Roberson Berlus has been an intervention worker for Café-Jeunesse Multiculturel for 16 years. In his view, police squads like ELTA are a short-term solution, and he doesn’t believe they will prevent guns from ending back up back in neighbourhoods.

“Yes the police has a job to do in the short term to keep the gun off the streets, but after what are you going to do?” he said.

The problem, he says, has grown worse in recent years.

“There are more guns,” he said. “ We can see it, we can heard it. There are too many guns in the streets now. And not only like people say, in Montreal-North, [it’s] everywhere. Everywhere there are many guns.”

Berlus wants to see more youth workers on the ground in Montreal so gun violence can be eradicated at its roots. In his view, prevention is key.

“The youth have to be educated, and they have to have more options,” he said.

- With reporting form CTV News Montreal's Matt Grillo.