Montreal police work to protect Inuit from becoming crime victims
New video offers advice on dealing with infamous Cabot Square
Community police officer Adalbert Pimentel wants to make Cabot Square a safer place for Montreal’s growing Inuit community.
The downtown west end park has long been a gathering place for the city’s Inuit and First Nations communities. Pimentel says crime is on the rise in the area and Inuit people are too often victims.
“Here in Montreal, sometimes there are some people that may have bad intentions and might take advantage of the fact that you have a population that’s visiting… without knowing the certain pitfalls and certain dangers,” Pimentel says.
Unfortunately, much crime in the area goes unreported, making statistics hard to gather and prevention hard to do.
And so Pimentel got creative. He commissioned local company Communication SRVA to produce a video.
“Our goal is to give them some safety tips, prevention tips, which they can use to reduce the chance of being a victim of a crime.”
The police teamed up with local aboriginal organizations to make the video.
“This is Cabot Square,” narrates Judy Hayohok, as the camera pans jerkily across a landscape punctuated by colorful foliage and clusters of people.
“A little bit of everything actually goes on here. It could be a nice park sometimes, but there’s drunkards and drug dealers and violent people that hang out here.”
Hayohok is the Inuit case worker at Chez Doris, a local day shelter for women, where 15 per cent of the clientele are Inuit.
Considering Montreal’s 1,000 or so Inuit represent a tiny fraction of the city’s 1.7 million people, this is a significant number.
The video features several women, presumably Inuit, talking about traumatic experiences they’ve had in the city.
“Jeannie” talks about coming to Montreal alone from Hudson Bay, and being sexually assaulted. “Pauline” says she “was homeless for a while, prostituting for a while.”
Hayohok emphasizes the resources available to those visiting the city, from Chez Doris to the police department.
According to the Makivik Corp., Inuit find themselves in Montreal for a lot of different reasons.
Some come for the city’s jobs, education or healthcare, while others are driven from their home communities – mostly in Nunavik – because of problems there.
A report published by Makivik in November finds that while Inuit represent just 10 percent of the aboriginal population in Montreal, they account for 45 percent of homeless aboriginal people in the city.
Many of these homeless tend to congregate at Cabot Square — to the chagrin of many local residents.
“Residents and business owners in the area are becoming very upset with what is happening, so the police of course have to respond to that,” said crime prevention analyst Vivien Carli.
Carli works for the Montreal Urban Aboriginal Community Strategy Network. The group is collaborating with a range of stakeholders to develop a safety strategy for the area.
Carli sees the Cabot Square video as a step in the right direction.
“It’s a way to sort of prevent them being victimized and ending up in the homeless situation, all sorts of very difficult situations.”
The video is still in production, but should be finished any day now. Pimentel says it will be distributed to a range of community centres, basically “whoever’s interested.”
Carli suggests the police also consider showing the video on public transit services like airplanes and buses, and even correctional centres.
As for the park, she sees it as an opportunity.
“It’s an area we can turn into a point [for] better interaction and inclusion for the community in Montreal, but also for residents to understand more about what the Inuit community is about – their livelihood, their history, what they can give to the city.”
She says the strategy network is talking about having an annual art festival at the park to showcase Inuit and First Nations artwork.
However the city’s planning to give Cabot Square a facelift starting in the fall of 2013. This means major construction.
“We worry that it will displace a lot of the Inuit and First Nations individuals that are going to access the park. This is a whole other challenge that we’re facing,” Carli says.