Montreal hosts seventh annual police brutality vigil

Those affected by police killings and those in support of justice for police brutality gathered outside Montreal’s police union office in the Plateau. Photo by Megan Hunt.

The event honoured all killed by police, but drew on nine specific police deaths in Quebec

On Saturday, Oct. 22, the Justice for Victims of Police Killings Coalition held its seventh annual vigil to commemorate victims of police brutality. The coalition—which consists of friends and family members of eight Canadians who have died as the result of police altercations—and a group of supporters met outside the Fraternité des policiers et policières de Montréal, Montreal’s police union office in the Plateau-Mont-Royal.

The vigil, which purposely coincided with the National Day of Protest in the United States, honoured all victims of police violence, but focused on nine deaths that have occurred in Quebec since the implementation of the Bureau of Independent Investigations (BEI) in June 2016. The BEI was created with the intention of providing objective investigations after shootings and other violent police interventions, but coalition members condemned the organization as “police investigating police.” According to the coalition, eight out of those nine killed were “in crisis,” and instead of being helped by the police, they were killed.  In a group statement, the coalition claimed that, “half of the BEI is made up of ex-cops as well as civilians employed by police forces. Almost all the members are white men.”

Speakers at the vigil shared their personal experiences—including Bridget Tolley and Julie Matson, both of whom have lost a parent to police violence. Matson shared harrowing details about the death of her father, Ben Matson. According to Matson, her father was killed by police in 2002 over what she described as a “mild parking dispute” with an off-duty officer. Although the dispute was resolved before police arrived, Ben was chased into an alley by armed officers, beaten and held in prone position—a dangerous position that left him unable to move his body and struggling to breathe, which led to his death by asphyxiation.

Tolley also shared her experience with police violence and injustice. In 2001, her mother, Gladys, was killed by a police cruiser. Tolley claims that the investigative officers did not arrive on scene until eight hours after the accident, and that a coroner never saw her mother’s body. The officer leading the investigation was the brother of the officer responsible for Gladys’ death, Tolley said.

“The case was closed three months after the accident,” Tolley said. “Nobody was notified [about the case closing] until a reporter told me thirteen months later … This is big time conflict of interest. I don’t know what else to say.”

After the vigil, Tolley discussed the financial barriers for families seeking justice. “We don’t have millions of dollars for lawyers. It cost $1000 just to file a police report,” she said. “Families don’t all have the resources [for a lawsuit].”

According to the group’s official statement regarding the event on Facebook, the goal of the coalition and their annual vigil is to commemorate those lost, support the families of victims and call for truly independent, unbiased investigations of police killings.

“All we are asking for is the truth, for the wrongdoings to be fixed, so that we can all live together,” Tolley said. “We’re all human here.”

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