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MONTREAL—In August of 2008, 18-year-old Fredy Villanueva was playing dice in a parking lot in Montreal North when he was shot and killed by police officer Jean-Loup Lapointe. Two other youth were also shot, but survived.
All three were unarmed youth of colour. The killing has been described as emblematic of racial profiling at its most violent by community members, as well as by community groups, including Montreal-Nord Republik (a group of residents that formed, after the the killing of Villanueva, to denoounce racial profiling and economic marginalization), and Head & Hands (a non-profit youth service centre based in Montreal's NDG).
In 2010, the tragedy faced by the Villanueva family got worse. Having lost one son, Lilian Villanueva is now facing the possibility of being forcibly separated from another.
Dany Villanueva, who was an eyewitness to the killing of his brother, is slated to be deported to Honduras, a country in which he has not resided since 1998, when he was 12.
“They have already taken the life of my youngest son....now they want to take away my other son!” a tearful Lilian told the audience at Montreal's Forum Against Police Violence and Impunity in January 2010. Lilian had to struggle for a coroner’s inquest into her younger son's death. Now she is fighting her surviving son's deportation.
Fredy's killing, and the community response that it sparked, have exposed what some describe as the fault-lines of systemic discrimination in the forms of racial profiling, police impunity and a two-tiered immigration system.
Alexandre Popovic, a spokesperson with the Coalition Against Police Abuse and Repression, says the timing of Dany's deportation order is suspicious.
“It is hard for me to believe that the way that they dealt with Dany Villanueva’s file is not related to the public inquiry [into Fredy’s death]. It’s hard for me to believe that the people at the CBSA [Canada Border Services Agency] are making those decisions, at those specific dates, without having in mind the coroner’s inquest,” he says.
The Villanueva family led a long struggle for a coroner’s inquest, which they hope will uncover details surrounding Fredy’s death, and which is set to continue through the summer months.
Though their initial strategy was calling for Jean-Loup Lapointe to be put on trial for murder, or at least for a public inquiry with legal repercussions, it was difficult for the family to win any sort inquest into Fredy's death, and the current investigation represents a modest victory in the family's search for justice.
The role of the inquest, by definition, is to investigate and reveal to the public the details surrounding the death of the unarmed 18-year-old, and to put forth recommendations to avoid such situations in the future. It does not, however, have the judicial power of a criminal investigation, which Montreal-Nord Republik, among others, have said is warranted, given the details of the case.
Dany was charged with robbery in the spring of 2006 and served the full sentence for his crime that same year. More than three years later, in August of 2009, and while the Villanueva family was in the final stages of securing the coroner’s inquest, Dany received a letter informing him of his upcoming deportation. Popovic points out that Dany’s appearance before the immigration board closely coincided with the dates of his witness testimony for the coroner’s inquest about his brother's death, much to his family's distress.
Popovic believes the city's lawyers, who are defending the police, are unjustly using this highly-publicized immigration issue to shift the blame away from Lapointe, the police officer who fired on the three youth in the park. It is Lapointe whose actions are under scrutiny in the coroner’s inquest. While the city of Montreal planned to pay for the legal fees of the police, the Quebec government, the body responsible for the inquest, initially refused to cover the legal fees for any witnesses, the family, or the victims of the shootings. The government's position changed after witnesses threatened to boycott the proceedings.
In December 2009, the inquest revealed that Lapointe’s partner at the scene, Stephanie Pilotte, did not feel that her life was in danger when the shots were fired. Lapointe had previously testified that shooting at the three youth was necessary because he felt his life to be in danger.
The defence lawyers' strategy, says Popovic, has been to attempt to shift that police culpability onto Dany.
“The police lawyers are using, or attempting to use, the coroner’s inquest to criminalize Dany Villanueva. They are the ones who are questioning Dany Villaneuva the most. Their agenda is very clear: first they want to convince the coroner that the whole thing is the fault of Dany.”
Popovic says this is explicit in the proceedings at the coroner’s inquest. He points out that Pierre-Yves Boisvert, a lawyer for the city of Montreal, has stated that Dany is responsible for the death of his brother.
“The city will argue Fredy Villanueva is the victim of his own behaviour and the behaviour of his brother and his friends,” Boisvert said in a statement at the inquest.
By painting Dany as a criminal, Boisvert’s arguments in the inquest attempted to simultaneously justify Fredy's death and Dany’s deportation.
“He has an immigration order against him and Canada Border Services want to send him back to Honduras, a nice country, probably, but one he doesn't feel like going to,” said Bosivert.
As a result of this strategy, Dany has been painted unsympathetically as a gangster and a criminal by much of the corporate media. Numerous articles in the Quebec media kept Dany’s supposed criminality as their focus during the time of his testimony for the inquest this April. The Montreal Gazette ran an article with the headline “Dany Villaneuva was in a gang,” under which they printed photos taken from a hip hop website to show that the colour of Dany’s touque suggested gang membership. These photos were also used by Boisvert at the coroner’s inquest.
Popovic decries this media sensationalism, which places Dany under enormous pressure to defend his own character during his testimony, where his only focus should be his provision of an eye-witness description of the shooting incident in which his younger brother was killed by police.
Dany Villaneuva's pending deportation has also drawn attention to a phenomenon known as “double punishment.” The term was coined to describe the use of the immigration system to mete out additional penalties to non-citizens convicted of crimes, after having already subjected them to the punishments defined by court rulings. Migrant justice advocates call it a de facto two-tiered justice system.
Jared Will, a Montreal-based immigration lawyer, explains: “Non-citizens who are convicted of crimes often face punishment not only in the form of the sentence they get in the criminal courts, but also in the form of their loss of immigration status and deportation from the country.”
Dany’s case is an example of this practice. Having already served a sentence for his crime in 2006, Dany is now facing a second punishment for the same crime by being deported to his native Honduras, which would mean leaving behind the rest of his family in Montreal, who all have citizenship status.
Will stresses that double punishment is an issue that brings together aspects of racial profiling and the criminalization of migrant communities.
“The problem of racial profiling in the targeting of youth of colour has a disproportionate effect on migrant communities,” says Will.
Increasing documentation shows that racial profiling, especially of youth, is a harsh reality in Montreal, most recently documented by the Quebec Human Rights Commission. Montreal-Nord, St. Michel, Cote-des-Neiges, Notre Dame de Grace and Parc-Extension are the neighborhoods with some of the highest concentrations of immigrants in Montreal, as well as some of the highest populations of people of colour.
“When police target those in racialized communities there is a double fear for those who are refugee claimants and permanent residents,” says Will.
“Obviously the targeting of those communities has the effect of bringing a lot more people into immigration proceedings.”
Will says racial profiling increases the numbers of migrant youth in the justice system, and due to the de facto two-tiered nature of the legal system, it also places their fate in the hands of the immigration system.
A growing grassroots campaign in support of Dany Villanueva brings a broader analysis to and a rejection of the practice of double punishment. A solidarity statement drafted by Montreal-Nord Republik, No One Is Illegal-Montreal, Solidarity Across Borders, and the Coalition Against Police Repression and Abuse lists two demands: “An immediate end to all removal proceedings against Dany Villanueva, and that his permanent resident status is restored; and an end to the double punishment against migrants with criminal records.”
Organizers who have endorsed the statement are working to accrue the support of community organizations, human rights groups, and unions.
Though Dany’s deportation has been officially announced, the campaign in solidarity with the Villanueva family’s quest for justice continues. An appeal has been filed by Dany’s lawyer Stephen Handfield to overturn the decision. In the meantime, supporters of the family are asking for assistance in the campaign, calling for people to endorse the solidarity statement, and also to attend the on-going coroner’s inquest, which is open to the public.
To support the Villanueva family, send endorsements of this campaign to firstname.lastname@example.org, and condemn Dany Villanueva’s deportation order and double punishment by letter, fax, or phone to both the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration and the Minister of Public Safety. Support the Villlanueva family by filling the courts during the course of the coroner's inquest and during Dany’s appeal. Dates can be found here.
Robyn Maynard is a journalist, writer and activist based in Montreal, and a member of No One Is Illegal-Montreal. She is active in various struggles against racial profiling, police violence and impunity.
The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.