This September, the city of Montreal and the Service de Police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM) announced the creation of a new unit: École-école. Framed as a way of tackling youth gun violence in Montreal, this project will send a team of uniformed officers, psychologists, and cybercrime specialists into schools in an ill-advised attempt to prevent violence and crime. Both the Quebec government and the city of Montreal are funding this project, contributing $4 million over three years and $400,000, respectively.
This new initiative won’t make schools safer. Instead, it will put marginalized students and their communities further at risk of being targeted by the police. It reinforces a phenomenon known as the “school-to-prison pipeline” present in many North American schools. When schools rely on police to maintain order and discipline, students have more contact with the police and thus face a higher risk of being sent to prison or a juvenile detention center. Students who are undocumented or have families who are undocumented face an increased risk of being reported to the Canadian Border Patrol. Additionally, individuals engaging in petty crime, such as drinking in public and loitering, could also face incidental arrests and fines under the program. This increased interaction with police poses particular harm to Black, Indigenous, and other racialized students, who are more likely to be stopped by the SPVM and more likely to experience abuse within the justice system. Involvement with the prison system at an early age can scar a person’s permanent record, limiting their options for employment, and increases the risk of re-offending. The school-to-prison pipeline particularly targets youth who are racialized, low-income, or disabled, leading to a disproportionate number of these populations in the prison system.
The funding to be allocated to École-école will increase the SPVM’s already exorbitant budget. Despite claiming to be open to reallocating police funds in 2020, in her 2022 budget Mayor Valerie Plante increased the SPVM’s budget by $45 million, making it $724 million in total. In comparison, the city will spend $10 million on anti-poverty measures, $5.9 million to combat homelessness, and $4.1 million on measures to fight climate change. The CAQ also pledged to spend $250 million hiring 450 new police officers this summer, which would give Montreal the most police per capita of any Canadian city. This comes following a 2021 pre-budget consultation in which 60 per cent of Montrealers surveyed said they favored reducing the police services budget.
Urban security and policing expert Ted Rutland told CTV News that “none of the studies say that increasing police resources decreases gun violence, there’s a bunch of things that do decrease gun violence, and we’re not doing those things.” Policing does not address the root causes of crime and armed violence; to truly prevent crime, it’s necessary to invest in youth by providing services such as stable housing, free school lunch programs, affordable after-school activities, and mental health support. Many Montreal organizations providing social services are severely underfunded, which limits their capacity to meet the needs of their community.
While the SPVM claims to be in “collaboration” with community organizations, continued investment in police funding is not the answer to remedy the supposed rise in gun violence that has been purported in Montreal. Alternatively, true community care, as articulated by many residents, entails investing money elsewhere in social services. At a press conference attended by multiple community groups, Slim Hammami, co-ordinator at Cafe-Jeunesse Multiculturelle, a youth group from Montreal-Nord, said that “[W]e were not consulted or informed of this project” and that, had they been consulted, they would have been against it. Marlihan Lopez, the mother of a Black autistic student, says that most schools don’t have adequate resources to accommodate her child’s accessibility needs and would rather see funding go toward “better pay for teachers as well as more psychologists, counselors, cultural pedagogy and anti-racism training in schools” instead of more police. McGill assistant professor Nanre Nafziger expressed the need for transformative justice policies which “create alternative ways for teachers and educators to address problems within the school system without calling the police.”
Other school boards have already removed police from schools. In 2017, the Toronto District School Board, the largest in the country, voted to end their school resource officer program (SRO). Officers were replaced with unarmed safety monitors, although schools still maintained relationships with the police force. Although there isn’t much concrete data as to the effects of this decision, it is generally viewed positively by teachers, students, and community organizations. Data also shows that suspensions and expulsions dropped in the years after the program ended. While removing police from schools is necessary to keep students safe, it’s also important to address other areas of inequality that hamper students’ success and make them vulnerable to criminalization. For example, although The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board also recently ended their SRO program in 2021, racialized students still report experiencing discrimination from teachers and administration.
We must continue to challenge ongoing increases in SPVM funding. Collective action is required to stop programs like École-école from putting marginalized youth at increased risk of criminalization. Get involved with local campaigns to defund the police and remove police from schools such as École sans police. Support groups that help communities most threatened by police violence, such as Indigenous Street Workers Project, Black Healing Centre, Solidarité sans Frontières, and Sex Work Autonomous Committee. We must also explore alternatives when possible including restorative justice, conflict intervention, and harm reduction techniques. We can address crime by supporting organizations like Defund the SPVM that aim to reduce the police budget at large while reinvesting funds into strengthening communities by providing much-needed social resources.