The number of homicides reported in Montreal in 2021 increased by more than one-third over the previous year, and the reason involves simple math.
Homicides categorized by the Montreal police major crimes unit as “a settling of accounts” — where the victim is killed over a debt, simmering disputes between criminals, or rivalries between criminal organizations — brought the total number of violent deaths witnessed in the city to a level not seen since 2010, when 37 homicides were reported.
There were 37 homicides investigated during 2021, and at least 15 are believed to have involved some form of a settling of accounts as the motive. In 2020, there were 25 homicides and only two of those were considered to be a settling of accounts. Furthermore, only 15 of all the homicides carried out from 2018 to 2020 were given that classification.
“There certainly was a rise in the cases involving a settling of accounts, and in half of those there was a context involving street gangs,” Cmdr. Paul Verreault, the head of the major crimes unit, said in an interview with the Montreal Gazette. He was reflecting back on a very busy year during which many of his investigators were part of the probe into what happened at Dorval’s Résidence Herron , the CHSLD where 47 residents died during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Verreault said he is reluctant to attribute a homicide to street gang activity because proving in court that a suspect or victim is, or was, tied to a gang can be challenging. Even if a victim is, indeed, tied to a street gang, the motive behind their slaying may have nothing to do with it. Also, people tied to street gangs change alliances often and memberships are not written in stone, as they are with biker gangs or the Mafia.
“It’s like with a Hells Angel, to give you an example — when he puts on that vest (with the Hells Angels gang colours) it helps us a lot toward saying (in court): ‘He is a Hells Angel.’ With street gangs it is a bit more complicated to show that he is actually part of a gang or a criminal organization.”
The first homicide of 2021 is an example of how a person’s ties to a street gang might not necessarily explain why the victim was killed.
On Jan. 7, Walid Meddane, 26, was shot behind the Joliette métro station at around 7 a.m. He was taken to a hospital where he died hours later. In 2017, during a bail hearing in a case where Meddane was charged with the armed robbery of an Uber driver, a judge heard evidence that Meddane described himself as a member of a street gang on his Facebook page. He pleaded guilty to the armed robbery and to having assaulted the Uber driver and was sentenced to an 18-month prison term.
No one has been arrested yet in connection with Meddane’s death. Verreault said while it appears clear the victim had ties to a street gang, the motive behind the slaying remains unclear.
Twenty-one of the 37 homicides were solved, giving the major crimes unit a 57-per-cent solution rate for 2021. That is a far cry from the remarkable 88-per-cent solution rate the unit achieved in 2020 but, as Verreault noted, the higher number of underworld slayings this year had a significant effect on the difference. (Verreault also noted that the solution rate for 2020 actually rose to 92 per cent because of a lengthy investigation that came to an end in October and resulted in charges being filed against three people in the death of man killed in July 2020.)
© John Mahoney Police investigator examines a bullet hole in a car at the scene of a shooting on Perras Blvd. in Rivière-des-Prairies on Tuesday, Aug. 3, that left three people dead and two others injured.
Getting witnesses to come forward in cases involving a settling of accounts is always a challenge, Verreault said, but it was especially difficult while investigators probed the most alarming case of the year, the Aug. 2 drive-by shooting of five men that left three dead in Rivière-des-Prairies. Jerry Willer Jean-Baptiste, 29, one of the three men who were killed, had been shot before. His ties to a street gang called the Profit Kollectaz (also known as the Profit Boyz) were revealed in a case where he was charged with possessing a firearm after the attempt was made on his life.
“It was a conflict between two groups,” Verreault said of the triple homicide, while pointing out the location of the shooting, on Perras Blvd., was known to police as an area frequented by members of the Profit Boyz.
“I won’t hide it, (the triple homicide) was an investigation that was very complex. We did not get formidable co-operation on the part of witnesses. They gave just certain information, so the investigators had to work from scratch, from the crime scene. It was an enormous amount of work to identify the (four men who were charged). We are really happy with the work that was done,” Verreault said, while emphasizing the importance of eyewitnesses to a homicide case.
Despite the lack of co-operation from witnesses, four men now face charges of first-degree murder and attempted murder.
“Sometimes, people are afraid to give information. I want to send the message that there is nothing better than to have witnesses who help us to solve murder cases.
“Even if it’s just a description of a vehicle, a description of a person, someone who passed by before the event, who seemed to be surveilling the area, or even just a licence plate. All information is pertinent to us.
“We hope that we have sent a message that when people are charged with first-degree murder it will send a message that there are consequences for their actions.”
Three other homicides that stood out in 2021 were the deaths of three teenagers.
The first was Meriem Boundaoui, a 15-year-old girl from the South Shore who was shot in the head early in the evening of Feb. 7 while seated in a car that was struck by several bullets on Valdombre St., near Jean Talon St., in St-Léonard. Two years before she was killed, she had moved to Canada from Algeria to live with her two sisters and attend school here.
“The story behind (her death) involves a conflict, but that doesn’t mean the victim had a link to the conflict. The young girl was an innocent victim,” Verreault said. “She was an innocent victim in the wrong place. I can assure you we are making the maximum effort to solve this case.”
© John Mahoney A woman places a candle at a vigil for 16-year-old Jannai Dopwell-Bailey, who was stabbed and killed outside his school in Côte-des-Neiges in October.
The other two teenagers killed in the city were Jannai Dopwell-Bailey, a 16-year-old boy who was stabbed on Oct. 18 outside his school in the Côte-des-Neiges—Notre-Dame-de-Grâce borough, and Thomas Trudel, also 16, a student at École Joseph-François-Perrault, who was shot on Nov. 14 near his home in St- Michel.
Two people have been charged in connection with Dopwell-Bailey’s death, but investigators believe at least one other person was involved. No one has been arrested in Trudel’s case yet, something that is not lost on Verreault’s investigators, especially the ones who are parents of children the same ages as the three young victims.
“It creates a sense of insecurity for families who have children,” Verreault said. “All of our cases are important, but (the teenagers) particularly so.”