Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante on Thursday repeated her commitment to hiring more police officers and defended herself against accusations she doesn't support the city's police force, days after two brazen daytime murders.
"I’m not perfect,” she told reporters when asked about claims that she doesn't like the police. “You can criticize me for many things, but to put into question my devotion, my search for solutions, the way I’m always on the ground … for me, that’s false. That does not describe me."
Plante is under pressure following the daytime murders of two men within less than one hour on Tuesday, the latest killings in a series of high-profile shootings in the city this summer.
But despite Montreal having one of Canada's lowest murder rates, political parties have started making gun violence a topic in Quebec's election campaign — which starts officially Sunday — and the police union is using the high-profile crimes to push the city to hire more officers.
Plante said she understand that citizens are worried about violent crime, adding that while she doesn't want to minimize those concerns, the city's police service is doing a "great" job of solving crimes, getting guns off the street and making arrests.
However, the police union said there aren't enough officers to properly police the city. The Fraternité des policiers et policières de Montréal sent a letter to Plante this week claiming that since the mayor promised last November to hire 250 additional officers, the number of police in the city has dropped by 72.
"These departures are fuelled by your administration's lack of concrete support for police officers, who are resigning in greater numbers than before," union president Yves Francoeur wrote. The union said that it's their fourth letter to the administration and that the response to previous letters has been evasive.
Ted Rutland, a professor at Concordia University who studies urban security and policing, said Montreal has more police per capita than any other Canadian city and the idea that Plante's administration, which increased the police budget by $45 million in December, doesn't support the police is "just not based on anything."
Rutland said the focus on gun violence by criminal groups takes attention away from other sources of violence.
Of the 36 murders in Montreal last year, around one-third were related to criminal groups and around half were committed with guns, he said. Among those murders not linked to organized crime were the killing of five women by their partners.
Rutland said that while Montreal had "too many murders" in 2021, there has been an average of 36 murders a year in the city over the past 20 years. There have been 21 murders on the Island of Montreal so far this year.
More focus needs to be placed on preventing violence, Rutland said, including on mental health support for people who have experienced gun violence to discourage them from seeking vengeance. Community social workers who can help defuse conflicts before they become violent also need more money, he said.
"The police are actually doing a very good job of solving these crimes and arresting people, but that doesn't fundamentally solve anything, it just resolves that particular crime; it doesn't prevent any of it from happening in the future," he said.
Meanwhile, Quebec's opposition parties criticized Premier François Legault Thursday for neglecting gun violence in Montreal and for not visiting the city after Tuesday's shootings.
Liberal Leader Dominique Anglade — standing in front of the scene of one of Tuesday's murders — promised more funding for municipalities to hire police and to expand violence prevention programs.
Later in the day, during a visit to a Montreal neighbourhood that has been particularly affected by gun violence, Conservative Leader Éric Duhaime said he would add 400 new police officers in Montreal if elected. The Quebec government, he added, needs to work with Ottawa to crack down on the smuggling of illegal guns from the United States.
The Montreal census metropolitan area had a murder rate of 1.11 people per 100,000 in 2021, according to Statistics Canada — fewer murders per capita than any other area in Canada with more than 400,000 residents, except the Quebec City region and the Kitchener-Cambridge-Waterloo region.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 25, 2022.
Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press