Montreal police chief tells crime victims 'I will be there with you' during community summit

CRARR's executive director, Fo Niemi, left, sits next to Fady Dagher, chief of the Montreal police service, during a community summit on crime prevention organized by CRARR.  (Sharon Yonan-Renold/CBC - image credit)
CRARR's executive director, Fo Niemi, left, sits next to Fady Dagher, chief of the Montreal police service, during a community summit on crime prevention organized by CRARR. (Sharon Yonan-Renold/CBC - image credit)

As the names of murder victims were read aloud in a Montreal church Friday night, family and friends held pictures of them close to their hearts.

Charlene Hunte said she was reminded of her son Andrew, killed 15 years ago. She said many families have suffered like her, with the victim's killer never found, and some who have lost loved ones gathered for the community summit — attended by the new chief of Montreal's police service.

Hunte said the pain was made even worse by the silence from investigators.

"No contact from the police," she said. "No follow-ups. No nothing."

Chief Fady Dagher took the podium to address the crowd packed into Union United Church near Lionel-Groulx Metro station, promising that he will "find your results. I will be with you."

He pledged to look into those cold cases and give families answers. He also promised to overhaul recruitment strategies in the force, with a focus on finding officers who can build relationships in their neighbourhoods.

"There's a lot of sadness," he said. "A lot of pain and we have to build those bridges. I was always involved with the community. That's not going to stop. I'm going to increase and increase being involved with the community."

2-day summit organized by CRARR

The two-day summit was co-organized by Center for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR) and the church. Organizers aim to bring together crime victims and members of English-speaking Black and other communities.

Fo Niemi, the organization's executive director, said the event is aimed at attracting more resources to meet the community's crime-prevention needs and, at the same time, "to acknowledge and pay tribute to victims of crime."

The victims and survivors of crime tend to be forgotten once the headlines fade from sight, he said. The summit was organized to show how victims experience crime and all the consequences that come with it, long after their loved ones have died.

Sharon Yonan-Renold/CBC
Sharon Yonan-Renold/CBC

The summit addresses the rising gun violence in the city, with a spotlight on anglophone communities, Niemi said.

"You may recall the last year, the Montreal police held a summit on armed violence that left out a lot of English-speaking participants and communities," Niemi said. "People need to feel included, people say this is a city, this is our city, and we need to participate."

Members of the church, community, victims and city councillors spoke during the event Friday night, along with the chief of the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM).

Chief addresses crowd in English

Dagher addressed the gathered crowd in English, saying he was honoured to be there — the first time in the church's history a city police chief had entered the building.

"The police must be closer to the community," he said. "Our mission isn't to protect one population more than another one."

Dagher was sworn in as Montreal's new police chief in January.

Sharon Yonan-Renold/CBC
Sharon Yonan-Renold/CBC

Dagher has a 25-year history with the SPVM, but he rose to local fame in recent years for his work as chief of police in Longueuil, Que., where he implemented a model of community policing that attracted the attention of the provincial government and police services across the country.

"Nobody is born a criminal," Dagher said, and nobody is a criminal 24 hours a day. "There is always hope."

On Saturday, the summit will be held at Concordia University, bringing city officials, police representatives and community groups alongside crime victims to discuss crime prevention, partnerships and resources.

"The Community Summit seeks to respond to the needs of English-speaking Montrealers of diverse backgrounds regarding better access to and inclusion in government crime prevention initiatives," CRARR said in a news release.