Covering the Fredy Villanueva Killing: A Comparative Study of La Presse and The Gazette

By Gabriela Capurro

About the author

Gabriela Capurro is an M.A. student in the Department of Journalism at Concordia University, 7141 Sherbrooke St. West, CJ- 3.245, Montréal, Québec, H4B 1R6

gabrielacapurro@gmail.com

Abstract:

This paper explores the coverage by one anglophone and one francophone newspaper in Montreal of an event involving a visible minority—the fatal shooting of Fredy Villanueva by city police—in order to elucidate the complex power relations between the city’s ethnic groups and the role of the media in reinforcing those power relations. The assessment of coverage in The Gazette and La Presse shows that minority misrepresentation was present in both newspapers.  However, The Gazette showed more equitable representation of the victim, his family and his community. The differences found suggest that Montreal’s French and English communities regard visible minorities differently because of the former’s need to legitimate itself as the dominant majority and the latter’s need to defend itself from the dominating discourse.

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Introduction

On the night of Aug. 9, 2008, Fredy Villanueva, 18, was throwing dice with his older brother Dany, 22, and some friends in the Henri-Bourassa Park in Montreal North, next to a soccer field where children were playing. Two police officers, one male and one female, approached them and arrested Dany. When Fredy tried to intervene, the male police officer shot his gun four times, killing Fredy, who died hours later in hospital, and wounding two other young men.  What exactly happened that night is still under investigation, but according to witnesses who made declarations to La Presse, Dany “Villanueva et le policier ont échangé des mots aigres-doux. Le ton a monté. Villanueva a été arrêté de façon musclée, refusant de collaborer.”

According to The Gazette story, “the police officers singled out Dany Villanueva. They tried to search him and when he resisted, a male officer pushed him to the ground and arrested him.”  While Dany was on the ground, Fredy, who was unarmed, approached the female officer. A story cited a police statement that said the officer “felt threatened” by him. The Gazette story added that “witnesses at the scene told a different story—one in which Fredy was shot after little provocation.”

Meanwhile La Presse reported that witnesses saw “l’un des jeunes a sauté au cou d’un policier.” Whether Fredy attacked the female officer or just approached her without posing any threat remains unclear.  What has been established is that when the male officer, still holding Dany to the ground, saw Fredy approach the female officer, he fired four times, killing Fredy. Villanueva’s death sparked riots in Montreal North; these were also covered by the press.

After the shooting, two versions of the event began circulating in both the English and French press; thus readers were exposed to different accounts of the shooting: in one, a group of teenagers fell victim to racial profiling and abuse by police; in the other, a group of youths, immigrant members of street gangs, threatened the police and the public order. The coverage of the shooting of Villanueva also revealed the different discourses implicit in La Presse and The Gazette involving visible minorities who live in Montreal North, a working-class neighbourhood populated mainly by immigrants.

Representation of minorities in mainstream media has been a recurrent concern among researchers (Van Dijk, 1988; Nancoo and Nancoo, 1996; Fleras and Kunz, 2001; Henry and Tator, 2002), who have for the most part concluded that these groups are underrepresented and misrepresented. The case of newspapers in Quebec becomes more complicated because the anglophone population is a minority in a province dominated by francophones, while the rest of Canada is mainly anglophone. Thus, the comparison of the coverage of stories involving visible minority individuals in English-language and French-language newspapers in Quebec is important for understanding the power relations between these two linguistic communities and their interactions with other groups.

The coverage of the shooting of Fredy Villanueva in The Gazette and La Presse from Aug. 11 to Aug. 20 was analyzed to determine how the victim, a Honduran immigrant, his family, and the Montreal North community were depicted in the press. The anglophone and francophone coverage of the events was compared in terms of minority representation. This research found noticeable differences in the way the story was reported and in how the people involved were represented in the two newspapers cited.  Anglophones and francophones in Montreal were exposed to different versions of the same event. The Gazette was expected to have a more critical approach toward police actions and to give a closer and more sympathetic view of the victim’s family and friends. It was also expected to be less critical about the riots that occurred in the neighbourhood after the killing.  La Presse, on the other hand, was expected in its coverage to express opinions more supportive of police, more distant toward the victim’s family, and more negative toward the victim’s Montreal North community.

Minorities in the press

Minority representation in the press influences reader perceptions of minorities beyond their everyday experience; for example, the press influences how the dominant majority perceives immigrant minorities—such as those of Montreal North—with whom it does not regularly interact. However, discourses in newspapers about minority groups can vary and can affect in different ways how these communities are perceived. Journalism does not simply reflect the world; public discourses are shaped by a series of decision making processes and collective action in the newsrooms (Zelitzer, 2004, p. 17); thus journalistic coverage of an event may vary depending on the news organization and the audience it caters to. This can lead to misrepresentation and underrepresentation of minorities in the media, a situation that gives voice to racism while effectively silencing targeted ethnic groups (Henry and Tator, 2002). In that sense, the media repeat the same dominant discourses, conceived as “unquestioned assumptions, values, norms, and practices that are rooted in the dominant culture’s ideology and in the subcultures of media organizations” (Henry and Tator, 2002, p.6). In their research, Frances

Henry and Carol Tator conclude that dominant discourses in mainstream media are for the most part an unconscious process, and they identified nine common discourses of minority misrepresentation.

In his assessment of the depiction of ethnic minorities in the European press, Teun van Dijk explains how the media are used by dominant majorities to maintain an “intra-group information network” through which they legitimize and reproduce their dominant position. In that context, “because the press plays such an important role in what white people learn about ethnic minority groups and ethnic relations, it is important to assess its contents, structures, and strategies of (re-) production” (van Dijk, 1988, p.222). Van Dijk’s results also suggest that media representations of minorities are heavily stereotyped, portraying group members as “helpless, without initiative, [and] ignorant victims, unless they cause ‘trouble,’ such as crime” (p. 235). Then stereotypes are reinforced by the passive role of audiences who “simply have neither the time nor the opportunity to access different sources, and will tend to accept, broadly speaking, the pervasive interpretation framework as supplied by the media” (p. 229). Thus, the stereotype is an important concept in assessing coverage of minorities given that the stereotype is a form of misrepresentation that serves to legitimate a dominant perspective.

In their study of the role and functions of the media in Canada, Nancoo and Nancoo (1996) acknowledge the importance of representation in the press. This study is centered on the development of the media in a diverse society, and the authors signal the underrepresentation of minority groups in news content and newsrooms as a major problem, given that the media play a powerful role in society.  The study concludes that in Canada “visible minorities and aboriginals are underrepresented and underreported by the mass media, except in cases of conflict and crime and the sports pages” (p. 48).  Thus underrepresentation here is also linked to the use of stereotypes.

The stereotyping of minorities is recurrent in studies of representation in Canadian media; for instance, the idea is common that visible minority individuals are either good athletes or good criminals, and that these are the only reasons why they appear in the news (Miller, 1996). John Miller’s research on how Canadian newspapers silence minorities raises another important concept, that of “problematized minorities.”  Miller found a systematic use of stereotypes and routine problematization of ethnic groups in Canada’s largest newspapers, which depicted minorities as if “half are either athletes or entertainers, if they’re in the news; otherwise, they’re probably in trouble” (p. 135). The author suggests that “Canadian papers could benefit from policies being adopted by large American papers to promote social diversity in everyday news coverage” (p. 138).

A key study on Canadian media that further explored the notion of problematized minorities is that of  Fleras and Kunz (2001). The authors begin by stating that reality is mediated: “In absence of first-hand experience […] mainstream news media often constitute the preliminary and often only point of contact with reality ‘out there’ ” (p. 65), thus emphasizing the fact that media accounts influence the public’s perception of minorities beyond their everyday experiences. The authors also suggest that audiences tend to believe that news organizations are impartial and objective and to disregard the decision-making processes involved in the creation of news that is framed by organizational values and to which Zelitzer (2004) refers.

Fleras and Kunz recognize the problems addressed by van Dijk, Miller and Nancoo et al. when they argue that newspapers tend to frame minorities as “people who are in a problem, who create problems, or who pose a threat to Canadian values” (p. 66).  The study raises concerns about stereotyping and problematizing, as well as concerns about the invisibilization of minorities. Mainstream media make minorities invisible “either by ignoring stories about them or silencing minority voices” (p.79); and when these groups actually appear in the news they are misrepresented, denounced or criticized; they are treated as the “other.” The authors conclude that “when not openly ignored as irrelevant or inferior, minorities have been reduced in status to stereotypes or problem people, thus reinforcing their status as the “other” (p.41).  But their study takes a step further by proposing patterns of how media misrepresent minorities and clearly identifies five ways of misrepresentation which lead to “otherizing” of minorities and then to marginalization and invisibility. These are as follows: invisibilizing, stereotyping, problematizing, ornamentalizing, and whitewashing.

Media coverage can influence identity construction in minority groups, and poor coverage or reiterated negative stereotypes in media images can affect their idea of self. In that sense, Ritva Levo-Henriksson (2007) asserts that minorities’ “lack of agency as social actors is deepened by the “very thin and disturbing material for identity construction” (p. 220) found in media discourses.

Taking as a starting point the idea suggested by Henry et al. that a democratic society needs a less biased and more inclusive media, and that there is a conflict in Canadian society between the belief that media are the basis of a democratic liberal society and the “actual role of the media as purveyors of  racialized discourses,” this study evaluates the coverage of the Villanueva case in an English-language newspaper and a French-language newspaper, in the context of a community where francophones are the dominant majority, inside a country where anglophones are the dominant majority.

Anglophone and francophone duality in Quebec

The differences in the coverage of the Villanueva case in La Presse and The Gazette will be best assessed by considering the relationship between anglophones and francophones in Quebec.  According to Will Kymlicka (cited in Theriault, 2007) the francophone population of Quebec is a community seeking to internalize ethnocultural diversity;  francophones want their province to become a place where “individuals can exercise personal choices about their identity” (p. 256). However, it is also a community looking for recognition as a space where a modern society can be built, “unlike ethnic groups, which do not make such claims or set such objectives” (p. 256).

Conversely, Frederick Fletcher (1998) argues that modern Quebec nationalism has been fuelled by the francophone media, “by focusing their attention inward,” ignoring social, political and cultural events in the rest of Canada. The author considers that media “played a major role in reinforcing the separateness of the two cultural groups.”

Therefore the francophone community in Quebec has a twofold nature: on the one hand, it aspires to be an open and diverse society; on the other, it has a strong nationalism that makes it want to preserve its identity intact.

The case of anglophones in Quebec is special given that they are in a unique position in

North America: “In the last 50 years, the English-speaking community has witnessed a gradual transition to minority status” (Theriault, 2007, p. 259).  During the nineteenth century, Anglophones were the dominant majority in the province. However, the minorization of this community was accentuated by the 1977 Bill 101, which stated that French was the only official language in Quebec. Nonetheless, Theriault considers that anglophones in Quebec “cannot be explained by their minority status” but by the “high status of English in North America” (p.261).

However, regarding anglophone community identity in Quebec, Jedwab and Maynard (2008) argue that while francophone Quebecers have a strong sense of community, “there is much debate about whether language is in fact a powerful expression of identity or a galvanizing force for Quebec’s English speakers” and suggest that “the community lacks a capacity to mobilize and only comes together when it feels its interests are threatened” (p.165).

The duality of anglophones-versus-francophones in Canada has been challenged by aboriginal and immigrant groups, and “because Canada lacks a powerful unifying myth” (Fletcher, 1998), it has been vulnerable to external cultural influences. Fletcher argues that multiculturalism in Canada, though vital for the integration of immigrants, has “exacerbated relations between English-speaking and French-speaking communities by relegating the latter to the status of “just another minority language group.”  In that sense, Nieguth and Lacassagne (2009) suggest that reasonable accommodation of ethnic minorities—a legal mechanism for reducing conflicts due to cultural differences—has “fostered resentment” in the francophone community, “considering that Quebec nationalism was, until recently, very much concerned with the survival of a distinct Quebec identity in the face of assimilative pressures from anglophone societies dominating the continent” (p. 13).

With these tensions in mind, Fletcher asserted that there is little research on the elements that distinguish cultural products created for French audiences in Canada and argues that if “the consumption of popular media has significant political/attitudinal consequences, it is important to learn more about the messages consumed.”  Thus, the study of the coverage of the Villanueva case in anglophone and francophone newspapers is crucial for understanding how media messages about immigrant minorities influence power relations between them and among other groups.

Method

In order to determine how Fredy Villanueva and his family were depicted in The Gazette and La Presse, and how the riots provoked by his killing were covered, a critical discourse analysis of the news pieces published from Aug. 11 to 20, 2008, including columns, editorials, and letters to the editor, was carried out. According to Henry et al., critical discourse analysis is a method for analyzing “how dominance, inequality, and social power abuse are enacted by ‘text’ and ‘talk’ within systems of representation” (p. 35). Villanueva was killed on Saturday, Aug. 9, and the next day riots broke out in Montreal North, but these riots were not reported until Monday Aug. 11.  The story was not fully covered until the Aug. 20, by which time the amount of news published on the subject had decreased significantly.

The analysis of the news pieces was based on the five patterns of minority misrepresentation in the media identified by Fleras et al: minorities as invisible; minorities as stereotypes; minorities as a problem; minorities as adornments; and whitewashed minorities. Even though the authors warn that this classification is not “intended to be exhaustive or accurately reflect reality” and that the objective is “to provide an ideal-typical framework for improving our understanding of a complex issue” (p. 142), for the purposes of this research the categories suffice as a tool for critical discourse analysis. According to Fleras et al., invisibilization of minorities consists in under-representing them in important areas while over-representing them in frivolous ones.

Stereotyping refers to the use of generalizations that emphasize comical or grotesque aspects. Problematization implies the depiction of minorities in the media as social problems: as having problems or creating problems that demand political attention or costly solutions.  Ornamentalization refers to the characterization of minorities as trivial or ornamental features of society, instead of average, normal citizens; and it is achieved by casting minorities in amusing, exotic or ghettoized roles. Finally, whitewashing refers to the association in the media of whiteness with acceptability, and of non-whiteness with evocative images of danger, pollution and dirt; the phenomenon of media whitewashing results in the near exclusion of people of colour from mainstream cultural products, except as stereotypes.

The texts were analyzed to determine if the newspapers used misrepresenting language, or if they published opinion pieces in which the victim or the community was misrepresented. The five categories described above were used as a classification scheme for the analysis.

The Gazette is the only English-language daily newspaper in Montreal and its audience is the city’s anglophone minority. The daily is relevant for this research because the newspaper is directed to a minority readership and the way it represents other minority groups could also reveal a clear position towards the French majority. La Presse is a large circulation newspaper aimed at a middle-class francophone readership. Its coverage of the Villanueva killing is important for this investigation because the paper represents the French-speaking majority’s views on the way media depict minorities and police activity in marginal neighbourhoods. The sample is composed of 75 newspaper articles about or related to the shooting of Fredy Villanueva, published between the Aug. 11 and Aug. 20, 2008, in La Presse (40 articles) and in The Gazette (35 articles). The pieces published in La Presse were obtained via the Eureka database, and those published in The Gazette were retrieved from the Factiva database.

Findings

On Monday, Aug. 11,  the coverage of the Villanueva shooting in La Presse and The Gazette focused on the Saturday, Aug. 9 killing and on the riots that broke out the following night in Montreal North. The francophone newspaper put more emphasis on the violent acts, while the anglophone paper offered insight into the victim’s family and friends. La Presse published four stories related to the Villanueva killing and The Gazette published two. In the analysis of the French-language newspaper, stereotyping, problematizing and ornamentalizing of minorities was found. The community of Montreal North was described as resentful over the death of Villanueva and “le ressentiment d’une partie de la population a éclaté sous forme de brasiers, de voitures saccagées et de commerces pillés.”  This depiction of the community as problematic was complemented by a highly stereotyped vision of minority groups as criminals who are constantly followed by the police: “Plusiers habitants de ce secteur, frécuenté par les gangs de rue, s’insurgent contre ce qu’ils considerènt comme du harcèlement de la part des policies.”  La Presse’s coverage on that day focused mainly on the riots that broke out in Montreal North on Sunday night, and the victim’s family is referred to in only one news piece.

Meanwhile, The Gazette’s stories were more focused on providing a profile of Fredy Villanueva, his family, the neighbourhood, and what happened on the night he was shot. Montreal North is described as a fairly peaceful neighbourhood where, according to witnesses, “police arrived while the group (that included Fredy Villanueva) was calmly throwing dice behind the arena, next to a field were children were playing soccer.” This quote also describes the place where Villanueva was shot as a playground. Conversely, La Presse described the area as “le stationnement du parc Henri-Bourassa,” and does not make reference to the fact that children were playing nearby.  In both newspapers, we hear from the victim’s family, asking for justice. La Presse quotes Wendy Villanueva, Fredy’s sister, saying “On veut de la justice. On sait qu’il y a du racisme. Aujourd’hui on veut de la justice.” This is the first time that a race issue is mentioned, although there is no reference to Villanueva’s ethnic origin. The Gazette quotes another of Fredy’s sisters, Patricia, asking, “Why the police officer need to kill him,” and his mother, Lilian Villanueva, saying that they were not notified by the police about her son’s death: “A friend of Fredy’s called his aunt and then she called here—that’s how we found out.” The anglophone newspaper also quotes the family talking about the victim as a shy boy who liked video games and spent his time taking care of his disabled sister, and gives information on the family’s ethnic background: “The Villanuevas emigrated from Honduras in 1998 (…) Yesterday, they said their faith in their adopting country was shaken to its core.”

According to The Gazette, “Sûreté du Québec, which has taken over the investigation because it involves Montreal police, remained tight-lipped about the incident.” La Presse did not report on that .  The Gazette’s second story is an update of the one described above, and in this one the journalist refers to the riots in Montreal North. The neighbourhood is described as furious about

Villanueva’s death and very violent about it: “Their fury erupted into a riot in Montreal North, with knots of protesters roaming the streets and setting fire to cars and garbage barricades.” This depiction of the community marks a radical shift from the previous references, and it qualifies as a case of stereotyping because the actions of a few are generalized to the whole neighbourhood.

On the second day of coverage, Tuesday, Aug. 12, La Presse published four stories on the case and The Gazette, eight. The francophone newspaper does not place the story on the front page anymore; the first news article, on page A7, is the testimony of Villanueva’s brother Dany, who was at the scene of the shooting.  He is quoted saying, “Le policier est venu me voir et il m’a dit: ‘toi, viens ici,’ ” but the reporter immediately disqualified the testimony by referring to the criminal past of the victim’s brother:  “poursuit Dany Villanueva, qui est connu des services  policiers.” This disqualification of the source can be considered a form of invisibilization

because the impact of the quote is diminished by the citing of a fact irrelevant to the killing of Villanueva. The Gazette also reported on Dany’s testimony, but it highlighted different facts, noting that Dany “was charged with assault for having struggled with police during his arrest, but he has no idea why police wanted to take him into custody to begin with.” The reporter also writes about Villanueva’s parents who “are still in shock.”

In La Presse, an official source is quoted for the first time: it is the spokesperson of the Sûreté du Québec (provincial police). The source is quoted as saying, “Pour l’instant, on sait que les policiers ont volu procéder à la arrestation d’un individu dans le group.” The reporter then clarifies that the source could not tell if the police wanted to arrest the man before or after the shooting. The reporter refers one more time to Dany’s criminal record, disqualifying him again. A second story published by La Presse reports on the petition of the Ligue des Noirs for an independent probe: “La Ligue des Noirs exige une enquête, publique et independente, pour faire toute la lumière sur les circonstances de la mort de Fredy Villanueva.” Although Villanueva’s ethnicity so far has not been mentioned in La Presse, this article reports on an ethnic minority association demanding an independent investigation of the case. The piece quotes the president of the association saying, “les policiers qui commettent bravures n’obtiennent jamais le châtiment qu’ils méritent.  On leur donne toujours une petite tape sur la main.”  The reporter paraphrasing the community leader as saying that abusive cops never get what they deserve can be perceived as problematic, as a minority individual generating problems. But then the reporter writes that another black leader from Côte-des-Neiges, an upper-class neighbourhood that has little in common with Montreal North, “refuse … de stigmatiser les forces de l’ordre et de faire generalisations: La plupart des officiers de police sont corrects.” This immediately disqualifies the previous source and reinforces the dominant discourse shared by the francophone majority about police in their city being correct. The rest of the story focuses on what the reporter considers a problematic youth, alleviating police responsibility for the shooting death.

On the same day, La Presse published the complete declarations of the mayor of Montreal and eight letters to the editor on the Villanueva case. In his message, the mayor acknowledged the need for an investigation and severely condemned the riots in Montreal North. The fact that the mayor’s speech was not only covered but also fully reproduced in the newspaper was one way of supplying readers with the official version, which coincides with the dominant discourse. Seven of the eight letters to the editor published that day in La Presse defended the police Action against Villanueva with expressions like “Bravo aux policies!” and condemned the violent reaction of the Montreal North community.

The Gazette had on the front page the story with the mayor’s comments on the shooting, but according to the piece, he “fell short of calling for a public inquiry.” Another story was published on the pleas for peace after the riots from residents of Montreal North and the testimonies of people who witnessed them. A 12 year-old boy says, “I was really scared. It was out of control.” The news piece also accounts for residents who say they are “angry with the rioters for escalating the situation.”  Others are “angry with police,” who, they say, “showed an abuse of power by shooting Villanueva.” This is a way of ornamentalizing:  the minorities are explained to the reader, who is not aware of how they think or feel. However, it also shows a side of the community that did not agree with the violent reaction and in that sense is refusing the stereotype of violent immigrant minorities.

From Aug. 13, the coverage shifted its angle in both newspapers from centering the stories on the killing of Villanueva and the riots in Montreal North to focusing on the probe of the incident and the neighbourhood where it happened.  La Presse published nine stories that day; none of them made the front page.   Four of them contained stereotyping of minorities, two had ornamentalization, and one had problematization. In the story “C’est économique, stupide!” the journalist compares the death of Villanueva to that of an illegal Brazilian immigrant in the

United States killed by the police, and even though he explains that Villanueva was not an illegal immigrant, the comparison contributes to stereotyping: “Immigration illegal en moins, l’affaire de Yarmouth ressemble à celle de Montreal North.” The journalist explains in this piece the state of Montreal North as if it were a topic completely ignored by the readers, something happening in a remote place, and in that sense contributes to the ornamentalization of the visible minorities who live there:

“. . . les graines de la révolte germent depuis quelques années déjà dans quelques quartiers chauds de Montréal. Criminalité, gangs de rue, violence, rejet de l’autorité, tous ces phénomènes ne naissent pas par génération spontanée.  Ils prennent tous forme dans le même terreau: la pauvreté.”

On that same day (Aug. 13), The Gazette published five stories on the Villanueva case; one was on the front page, and only one had minority misrepresentation.  In “Stories from the hood,” reporter Christopher Maughan intended to do a profile of the neighbourhood by talking to people who live in Montreal North and identifying them by age and race. This is a case of ornamentalizing because even though the piece is made almost entirely of quotes and the reader does not get any direct commentary from the reporter, it still seeks to “explain” a place populated by visible minorities to a readership assumed never to have been to Montreal North.  Treating  this neighbourhood as an exotic place alienates its residents from the rest of society.

Another example of La Presse stereotyping and problematizing minorities is found in its Aug. 13 editorial, “Un minimum de confiance,” by André Pratte, in which Pratte asserts that the population of Montreal North has “la tendance à exiger des solutions rapides et spectaculaires” regarding the probe of the shooting. With this statement, the author is implies that the neighbours of Montreal North do not understand the normal legal procedure in such cases and are putting pressure on authorities who cannot do anything to get the investigation done sooner. Finally, a letter from a policeman published in La Presse is openly in favour of the shooting of Villanueva, and says that the investigation “démontrera sans aucun doute, selon moi, que la decision du policier de tirer était justifiée.”  The letter goes on to say that “pour être une menace à notre intégrité physique ou à celle d’un collègue, un individu n’a pas à être armé,” suggesting that an attitude or simply the way an individual looks can be taken as a threat by the police and therefore a shooting is justified. The newspaper did not publish another letter against the shooting, which might suggest that the coverage is biased.

The next day, Aug. 14, the coverage drove even further away from the Villanuevas and from the front pages. La Presse published seven stories focused on the policeman and policewoman involved in the shooting, while The Gazette published six in which it evaluated the causes and consequences of the shooting. The only case of misrepresentation found that day was in La Presse’s “Il était beau, tout le monde l’aimait,” a piece that narrated the funeral of Fredy Villanueva.

The depiction of the victim’s friends as gang members is highly stereotyped and pretends to reveal an unknown world to readers. The reporter writes about Villanueva’s friends:

“Ils portaient des chaînes en or, des casquettes et de larges pantalons noirs. Ils rendaient hommage à Fredy Villanueva à leur façon, en partageant bouteilles d’alcool et joints de marijuana.”

The phrase “Ils rendaient hommage à Fredy Villanueva à leur façon” is particularly problematic, not only because it otherizes these young men but also because “their way” turns out to be less than optimal in the next phrase: “en partageant bouteilles d’alcool et joints de marijuana.”

On Aug. 15, La Presse coverage focused on the problems posed by the Montreal North community, highlighting the presence of street gangs and death threats received by the police. The Gazette also covered police issues that day, but emphasized the way police are trained to deal with cultural and racial diversity.  A news article in La Presse explained the concern of the minister of Securité Publique over the mistrust and suspicion of cultural communities toward the police. According to this story the minister “s’inquiète de la méfiance des communautés culturelles envers le service de police de la Ville de Montreal.”  This is a case of ornamentalizing:  minorities are considered different and mysterious, and therefore it is necessary to explain to readers how minorities feel about the police. In the same news piece, the reporter criticizes the police, but in doing so he engages in stereotyping the minorities in Montreal North: “Ces policies, charges entre autres de lutter contre les gangs de rue, ne sont pas suffisamment formés pour faire la différence entre les jeunes Noirs et Latinos vêtus comme des members de gangs et les vrais members de gangs.” This depiction of young people from visible minority groups as emulating members of street gangs is stereotyping because it does not consider differences among community members.

Another story published by La Presse explained that policemen and policewomen are constantly threatened by the population of Montreal North, who are described as “éléments criminels.” This is a case of problematization of a minority because the whole community is blamed for a problem allegedly caused by only part of it. No information is given in the story about how many threats were received and no evidence is offered to show that the letters came from the people of Montreal North.

The next day both newspapers focused mainly on the political effects of the shooting. La Presse published the message of the mayor of Montreal, Gerald Tremblay. It also published a column in which authorities were criticized for their silence after the killing of Villanueva. However, in one letter to the editor, a reader asked the media to remember that “à l’origine des événemenmts de Montreal North a été l’interpellation par les policiers de Dany Villanueva, don’t le dossier criminal est trés éloquent.” The fact that pieces both for and against the police were published on the same day shows that in its opinion section this newspaper began to aim for impartiality, an attitude that differs from the one expressed in its early coverage of the incident. The Gazette also published a story on the comments of the mayor of Montreal, in which Villanueva is identified as a “young Latino man.” The allusion to race in this case seems irrelevant, as the investigation had not revealed any proof that the race of the deceased was a motive for the shooting. The reporter mentioned in the story that the mayor’s administration “will also investigate the possibility of building a new sport facility for the young people of Montreal North.” This information is irrelevant to the death of Villanueva or the probe about the circumstances of his death. But the fact that the mayor said it in a speech about the Villanueva case is striking, and the reporter’s motives for including it in the story could be either to criticize the impertinence of the mayor or to depict the population of Montreal North as one that settles for a sport facility when one of its  young men is killed by police. Either way, it is a case of invisibilization: the reader does not get the opinion or viewpoint of the community.

Another  interesting piece published on Aug. 16 by La Presse was “La vie dans le ghetto,” which resembled The Gazette’s Aug. 13 “Stories from the ‘hood’” and intended to do a profile of Montreal North. The reporter chose to talk with social workers instead of to people who live in the neighbourhood. Throughout the story, several cases of problematization, ornamentalization and stereotyping are found. The neighbourhood is depicted as a “ghetto,” as a dangerous problematic place were visible minorities live in terrible conditions in “des appartements miniscules superpuplés, où les petits n’ont nulle part où jouer.” The intention of this piece clearly is to explain to readers (presumably unfamiliar with Montreal North), how visible minorities live there. “Le travailleur social a recontré des centains de parents, souvent des haitiens, dépassés par ce que leur enfant était devenue dans les rues de Montréal Nord.”  In this case, the reporter is more specific and identifies Haitian immigrants in Montreal North as the most affected by the demeaning conditions in which they live. The reference to Haitian immigrants is completely irrelevant, considering that Villanueva was Honduran. And the depiction of Montreal North is seriously compromised, given that social workers are constantly in contact with problematic cases but not with regular families.

The editorial piece in La Presse that day argued that in the last twenty years “la grande majorité des personnes décédées lors d’altercations avec des policiers de Montréal étaient de race blanche,” a fact completely irrelevant to the shooting of Villanueva. Whether the police kill more white people than visible minorities does not justify or makes less shocking the killing of a Latino man. This is a case of whitewashing because the journalist tries to justify a case of aggression against a minority member with more cases of aggression against white people.

By Aug. 17, the number of news stories on the Villanueva case had decreased in both newspapers.  La Presse and The Gazette published three stories each. In the case of La Presse only one news piece was problematic in terms of representation: it refers to a community group asking for the resignation of the mayor of Montreal North as a “groupuscule,” a derogatory expression. The community group is described as non-representative of Montreal North and as causing trouble, a clear example of problematization of minorities. The Gazette also refers to this group in its piece, but calls it “a new voice” that “emerges from the grassroots,” thus legitimizing it.   On the following day, Aug. 18, La Presse published a single item on the Villanueva case: a picture with an explanatory paragraph, and The Gazette published none.

On Aug. 19, both newspapers published three stories each on the Villanueva shooting; however, as they focused more on the police’s actions and politicians’ reactions, and drove further away from the victim’s family and the community, the cases of misrepresentation were less frequent. In the first story in La Presse extra security measures taken by the police in Montreal North are explained, and the fact that “zéro commentaire sur les circonstances de la mort de Fredy Villanueva” from the police or authorities is stressed. The Gazette also published a story on the reinforcement of the police station at Montreal North.

La Presse ran that day a letter from a lawyer who represented the spouse of a man shot by police and who lost lawsuit against the institution. In the letter, the lawyer warns about the difficulty of winning a case of police abuse. Meanwhile, The Gazette published two pieces that criticized the actions of the police and authorities. In the first story, “Ontario’s ombudsman says he has zero confidence in the Sûreté du Québec’s ability to impartially investigate the recent fatal shooting by Montreal police of a young Latino man.” The second piece, an editorial, denounces City Hall, accusing it of manipulating the Villanuevas and community groups through a public relations strategy designed to avoid criticism.

Finally, on Aug. 20 La Presse published no stories related to the Villanueva shooting, and The Gazette published one, on a Haitian group asking for an independent probe. In this piece, there are no examples of misrepresentation of minorities; however, the article highlights the fact that witnesses of the shooting are consistent in their versions of what happened, while the police account gives a completely different version.

Conclusion

Throughout the coverage of the shooting of Fredy Villanueva, the riots in Montreal North and the aftermath of these events, La Presse and The Gazette showed different tendencies regarding minority representation. In both newspapers there were cases of misrepresentation and underrepresentation, but also cases where none of these was present. The focus of attention during the coverage followed the same pattern in the two publications: the first two days it centred on the victim, his family and the reaction from within the Montreal North community;  then it turned to the neighbourhood, its characteristics, and a search for explanations for its violent protests; and finally, during the second half of the coverage, the focus was on the police officers who were involved in the shooting, the training the institution gives, and the political aspects of the incident.

In general, La Presse had more cases of misrepresentation and the most common forms were invisibilizing, stereotyping, problematizing, and ornamentalizing. It also had one case of whitewashing. The Gazette had fewer cases of misrepresentation and they were stereotyping, problematizing, and ornamentalizing. During the ten days of coverage analyzed, The Gazette expressed more criticism of the police than of the Montreal North community.  La Presse was at first critical of the community, questioned the victim’s actions, and published pieces supporting the police, but it gradually became more neutral, allowing in its opinion page columns and letters that challenged the way in which the police and politicians acted in relation to the shooting.

Regarding coverage of the victim and his family, The Gazette had a personal approach. The stories quoted Fredy’s friends and family in an attempt to make the victim more familiar to the reader; they also do not characterize him only as a “Latino man.”  The family’s immigrant background was also explained in this newspaper.  La Presse had more impersonal coverage of the victim and his family, Dany Villanueva’s testimony was questioned, and the service and funeral were not comprehensively covered. This suggests a higher level of identification of The Gazette with the tragedy, with the people affected by it; La Presse was more distant and supportive of police actions. This tendency can be considered a case of minority self- identification: the anglophone newspaper was more sympathetic to the visible minority that allegedly suffered police abuse.

Coverage of the Montreal North community was more sympathetic in The Gazette. Although both newspapers condemned the riots, the anglophone press talked to the people of Montreal North and did a profile of the community, while the francophone newspaper covered the issue by talking to social workers and experts, who are more familiar with problematic cases. The depiction of visible minorities in Montreal North was more stereotyped in La Presse, which also tended to discredit visible minority sources. Villanueva’s friends were routinely referred to as gang members, but no evidence of that was given to the reader, and the neighbourhood was described in demeaning ways. Overall, The Gazette published more positive coverage of the community than La Presse. The police and several politicians were criticized in both newspapers, especially for their lack of action and the questionable procedures in the Villanueva shooting probe.  However, The Gazette had a stronger position against the official response to the killing than La Presse did; for example, it questioned the City Hall’s alleged manipulation of comments by community groups and the victim’s family.

Misrepresentation of ethnic minorities is a problem present both in anglophone and francophone press in Montreal. However, in the case of the Villanueva shooting, the anglophone press showed more equitable representation.  The immigration of different ethnic groups to Quebec had exacerbated tensions between English and French (Fletcher, 1998).  In the Villanueva affair, the anglophone community and the anglophone press largely identified with the visible minorities community, while their francophone counterparts resented these same minorities, seeing them as a threat to Quebec’s distinct identity (Nieguth and Lacassagne, 2009).   The attitudes of francophones and anglophones toward Quebec immigrants differ because of their different political positions within Quebec: a francophone majority with a perceived need to legitimate itself as the dominant majority, and an anglophone minority with a corresponding need to defend itself from the dominating discourse. The discursive differences between The Gazette and La Presse, produced from a different understanding of power relationships in the anglophone and the francophone communities, reinforce differences between them, because exposure to different media accounts of the same situation gives each group a different worldview.  Although this analysis addresses the coverage of a single event involving a visible minority in a single city, it reveals a tendency that should be explored in further research on the differences in minority representation in anglophone and francophone press in Quebec.

References

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