Dismantling of Notre-Dame Street
Homeless Camp in Montreal

At around 6:00 am on the morning of December 7, 2020, Montreal police launched a violent attack on the homeless by evicting them from the camp they had set up on Notre-Dame Street in east-end Montreal. In April 2020, a dozen or so homeless persons began setting up a homeless camp in the Hochelaga-Maisonneuve neighbourhood. In June, as the temporary shelters that housed the homeless during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic were closed one after the other and with the second wave of the pandemic coming on, the camp grew to 300 tents.

Throughout the summer and fall, the occupants organized themselves into a collective to look after each other by creating a kitchen area and a space for exchange. Each day, they received the support of residents in the area in the form of visits and donations of material and food. They were active on social media to make their demands known and show how they were organizing themselves daily to distribute the material and donations according to the campers' needs. They let it be known publicly that the issue posed and to be resolved is access to decent housing in all its forms, from the price of rents to sanitary conditions that defend human dignity. They informed the visitors and media who came to meet with them that the regulations for access to shelters -- no arrivals before 8:00 pm, the prohibition on having a companion in one's room, mandatory departure by 6:00 am, etc. are not acceptable conditions for anyone. The enormous support they garnered from organizations and the population shows how the affirmation of human dignity must be defended through concrete social measures that all levels of government must provide.

On the morning of December 7, hundreds of police officers established a "security" perimeter around the campers, using threats, arrests and violence to forcibly evict them. "To have mobilized 250 police officers on horseback, bicycle and in cars, with riot gear and even a helicopter was completely disproportionate. They even threatened the campers with arrest, forcing them to leave. It's unacceptable," Marine Armengaud of the Comité BAILS, a housing rights organization located in the Hochelaga-Maisonneuve neighbourhood, said to the press. The homeless were treated as if they were criminals, with the police preventing resource persons from different aid organizations from entering the eviction zone to give support to the campers, if only to help them collect their personal belongings. Sylvie Boivin, Director of L'Anonyme, another organization that assists the homeless, told reporters, "It is totally unacceptable that workers who have been offering psychosocial support to campers for several months during these difficult times have been denied access to the site."

The Montreal Fire Department also participated in dismantling the camp, under the pretext that a candle had started a fire in one of the tents the Saturday before. People were asking that if the goal is to ensure everyone's safety, how is that achieved by the police and fire departments and the City of Montreal violently evicting people causing untold trauma? What about their demand for the construction of safe affordable housing? People were forced to watch their meagre posssessions and tents being holus bolus thrown into garbage disposal trucks. 

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante told the media that "[...] when the Fire Department decided that the site was no longer safe, that it had to be evacuated, I endorsed this decision with the Ministry of Transport." Despite the fact that she has long been asking the Quebec government to invest the necessary funds for the construction of social housing, it's the police powers that are being called upon to criminalize those who are the victims of a social housing crisis that has been known and recognized for years in Montreal. And this, less than 48 hours before International Human Rights Day.

That same day, organizations defending the right to housing issued a communiqué denouncing the repression and criminalization of those who are fighting to live a dignified life. The use of police powers, instead of a serious exchange with the homeless and those involved who have experience in housing needs and who have been proposing solutions for years, was justly opposed. The press release points out that: "[...] Based on Mayor Valérie Plante's own words, homelessness has increased by 60 per cent in Montreal since March 2020. For years now, the city and governments have been over-investing in police operations and favouring emergency housing solutions rather than those that are long-term, such as social housing, and it's high time this changes. We have concrete proposals and would like to finally be heard. [...] RAPSIM, TOMS and the Montreal Indigenous Community NETWORK, in support of the Collectif on ne laisse personne derrière [Leave No One Behind Collective], have been challenging the City of Montreal for months regarding solutions adapted to the needs of people at the camp, including fire prevention training by firefighters and the development of safe facilities. Camps are multiplying on the island of Montreal and urgent responses are being demanded."

Montreal has been experiencing a housing crisis for years. It's a social problem requiring a pro-social solution, not the violent intervention of police forces. The City of Montreal and the Legault government must take up their social responsibility and, as a starting point, address the demand of the homeless and their defence organizations for the realization of housing as a right.

(Quotations translated from original French by WF. Photos: FRAPRU, RAPSIM)

This article was published in

 August 4, 2021 - No. 65

Article Link:


Website:  www.cpcml.ca   Email:  editor@cpcml.ca