Borough councillors discuss police brutality, duplex conversion

Avleen K Mokha

Parc-Extension councillor Mary Deros participating at the June borough council meeting. Photo: City of Montreal webcast

Borough councillors of Villeray–Saint-Michel–Parc-Extension (VSP) met June 1 for their monthly session. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, elected officials having been meeting through teleconference. During the June 1 session, councillors spoke on recent events in the U.S. involving the murder of a black man, George Floyd. Borough councillors also responded to citizens’ questions on duplex conversions, street safety, and sanitary corridors.

Opening Statements

George Floyd

VSP borough mayor Giuliana Fumagalli opened the session by remarking on the murder of George Floyd, a black man murdered in the United States.

Floyd died because a policeman knelt on his throat, cutting off his air supply. An eyewitness recorded the murder in an eight-minute video that has now video has gone viral. The video has sparked protests across the world, including two held in Montreal.

In her opening statement, Fumagalli acknowledged that Floyd’s murder was unjust and saddening.

Non-profit organizations

Fumagalli also announced that sixty-four community organizations will be recognized by the borough as part of its Recognition and Support Policy for Non-Profit Organizations.

Parc-Extension councillor Mary Deros addressed residents about setting up a mobile testing clinic once again. Deros also said that the borough will install a sanitary corridor on Saint Roch street to give more space for pedestrians to use the street.

Deros also noted that June 15 is the World Day Elder Abuse Awareness. She called on residents to respect and protect the elderly, and to report abuse by calling 911.

Question and Answer period

Proposed ban on duplex conversions

The borough received several questions on the topic of duplex transformation. Recently, the borough adopted the first reading of measures which could limit landlords from evicting tenants for the purpose of renovations.

Nineteen citizens sent in questions about duplex conversions. Fumagalli addressed Agathe Besse-Bergier, Laurie Damme Gonneville, and Marilyse Paquin.

Fumagalli said the main two justifications for adopting the measures was the housing crisis in the borough and the gentrification of Park Extension. Gentrification is the process by which a neighbourhood changes with new, richer tenants moving in.

“These two elements have already driven families away. We are looking to keep our families in place,” Fumagalli said.

vsp borough council meeting june
VSP borough mayor responds to a citizen’s question at the June borough council meeting. Photo: City of Montreal webcast

Exemptions may be possible, Fumagalli said. For example, a family looking to enlarge their dwelling could apply for the PPCMOI, which is a permit for the specific construction, modification or occupancy of a building.

However, borough officials have not yet determined specific criteria which would frame these exceptions.

A public consultation on the topic will take place, though the date has not yet been announced.

Street safety

“Motorists are driving well above the speed limit, weaving their way between slower motorists, making the street dangerous for everyone.”

Jonathan De Luca asked the council about street safety on St- Hubert street, from du Rosaire to Jean-Talon.

“At the moment, motorists are driving well above the speed limit, weaving their way between slower motorists, making the street dangerous for everyone. Has the borough’s urban planning department considered converting the two-way street?”

Luca said that some research shows that when commercial streets become two-way, business improves dramatically, as does safety and usability.

In response, Fumagalli showed interest in the topic. However, she asked Luca to send the borough the relevant research.

Chantal Gamache-Brabant asked about increasing safety on Marquette street. Presently, Jarry street has been closed from Fabre to Christopher-Colomb. Gamache-Brabant explained that many motorists take from rue Crémazie to bypass construction, including the 193 bus.

“The cars are traveling at full speed on the street and several cars are traveling in the opposite direction,” Gamache-Brabant said.

“Would it be possible to remedy the situation by installing a speedometer sign?”

Fumagalli said she will study the proposed suggestions to reduce speed and noise issues on Marquette street.

Defunding police force

“The problem is not the SPVM, it’s rather a mindset that needs to change.”

Sarah Butler asked about abolishing SVPM, Montreal’s police force. Given the murder of George Floyd, along with many other people of colour, many feel that defunding the police force can reduce violence against minorities.

“In light of the events involving police violence, especially against black and minority communities, many are calling for the abolition of the police force and their replacement by alternative judicial structures,” Butler said. “I would like to know if the borough councillors and the mayor would consider the calls to abolish the SPVM?”

Fumagalli began her response with a nervous smile. She then composed herself to say that brutality against minorities, like Floyd’s murder, was unjust. However, Fumagalli disagreed with Butler about abolishing Montreal’s police force.

“The problem is not the SPVM, it’s rather a mindset that needs to change,” Fumagalli said, adding that she has filed many motions in the effort to combat racism.

Health corridor          

Lorena Orbis Tours asked about installing a sanitary corridor at the intersection of Jean-Talon and Querbes Avenue. According to Tours, financial institutions and bus stops make it difficult for pedestrians to keep a two meter distance – which public health officials recommend to limit the spread of coronavirus.

“I live in this corner and each time I go out, I put my health in danger because there is no 2 meters of physical distance and most people do not wear masks,” Tours said.

Fumagalli said the borough prioritized the busiest street.

“Obviously, with progressive deconfinement, it will be necessary to add corridors. Our team is reviewing different streets to reach this goal. Rue Jean-Talon is one of them.”

Digital divide

Pierre Fritzner asked about the digital divide. As everything from work to doctor’s appointments goes virtual, families with lower incomes are struggling because they cannot get a hold of smartphones, tablets, or laptops.

“What concrete action does the borough intend to take to resolve the problem of the digital divide in the borough?” Fritzner asked.

Fumagalli acknowledged that there is a need to ensure that each family has some minimum access to the internet. Fumagalli added she will follow the province’s announcements. For examples,  government of Quebec has announced measures to provide families with tablets and computers in preparation for students’ return to school this coming fall.

Last, Fumagalli said access to library computers could possibly be re-authorized. Libraries are currently not open for computer use.

This story was first published in print for the June 12 issue of Parc-Extension News. Click here to read the full issue.