Montreal is a special city. Some would say that it has a European charm that is rare in North America while others would swear that no other place has as many cool bars and clubs or let’s be honest, beautiful people. It’s true, Montreal has a special charm that people have been looking to explain for as long as it’s been a city. There is one thing however about this town that makes it second to none, and its diversity. The fact that so many people from different ethnic backgrounds come to Montreal and love it so much to make it their home is a testament to what makes it great.
To say that Montreal is a city undergoing a change is an understatement. It is not only seeing old neighbourhoods getting facelifts, but an influx of immigrants is giving it an ever increasing international flare. Not that Montreal hasn’t always been a city made and made-up of a countless mixture of people from every colour and creed imaginable. The Irish, the Italians, the Portuguese, Greeks, Jews and Chinese, just to name a few have all left their marks on this town and made it what it is today. That is not to say that Montreal is a stranger to its own share of violence and racial prejudice.
In recent years Montreal has seen more immigrants coming in from countries that would be seen as visual minorities. These new Montrealers are here for the same reasons any other group comes today or in the past; they are looking for a new start in a city that often times receives them with open arms and the promise of untold opportunity.
It all sounds like Montreal is one of those best kept secrets, and by and large it is. It has an energy that hypnotizes tourists and keeps them coming back for festivals year after year. Montreal is a city second to none, but just like other large cities with a growing population, it also has to deal with crime , violence and discrimination.
Police forces are trained to serve and protect, or that is what has been expected of them, traditionally. With the face of Montrealers changing it seems as though law enforcement is scrambling to catch up. This lack of preparedness has led to racial profiling and sadly on occasion to out -and-out racism as in the case of Fredy Villaneuva.
On August 9, 2008 two police officers approached a group of teenagers playing dice in a Montreal North park. The confrontation that followed left Villaneuva dead, his friends injured and a community on the edge of complete breakdown. The riots that ensued following this senseless killing only served to reinforce the growing chasm between the police force and the community they have sworn to protect.
After almost three years, the inquiry into the shooting and the motives behind police Jean-loup Lapointe and Stephanie Pillot`s actions has yielded no closure for a family still mourning their loss. Fredy Villaneuva`s brother who was involved in the altercation that caused his brother`s death seems likely to be allowed to stay in Canada after facing possible deportation back to native Honduras. This minor victory does little however to ease the pain of a community without true representation.
Montreal North activist Will Prosper, founder of Montreal-Nord Republik continues to work to ensure that police brutality or racial profiling do not go unpunished. Hopefully his push for accountability will yield more safety and solidarity in the Montreal North Community.
The case of Fredy Villaneuva is just one of many of the growing pains Montreal is going through as it struggles with a new demographic. Where once Montreal was seen as a white francophone city, now it is far more racially mixed. This mixture will only serve to make Montreal more of the vibrant place that it is.
Let it be said again and again that diversity is great. Who wants a Starbucks on every corner and every second person on the street looking and sounding the same? Montreal is all about difference. That`s what keeps people coming back here, and makes us want to stay.
Montreal is the greatest city in the world. Okay, maybe some people would beg to differ, citing Paris or New York or Hong Kong as far more exciting or cosmopolitan, and perhaps they would be right, but Montreal can definitely hold its own against these much larger cities. The reason why? Perhaps it is Montreal’s style or its ability to meld so many cultures into such a small space and still allow them to carry on in their own unique way.