Council has asked city staff to research the cost and liability of downtown surveillance cameras.

Council has asked city staff to research the cost and liability of downtown surveillance cameras.

Council split on idea of video surveillance in downtown

Concerns arise over privacy, legal challenges

The city will be looking into the cost of installing surveillance cameras in the downtown area, much to the consternation of two city councillors.

Councillor Sean Bujtas wanted to introduce the idea before the budget, after hearing people talk about the issue for years over concerns of personal safety, vandalism and vulnerable members of the community.

After Bujtas and councillor James Cordeiro put forth a motion to research the cost, opposition arose immediately.

“I think you really want to be careful of where you head with that,” said councillor Stacey Tyers.

“We pay for policing, and that really should be part of policing: patrolling areas that [don’t] impact the privacy and civil rights of your average citizen.”

Tyers added that court challenges have taken place in other communities with surveillance equipment.

Cordeiro wasn’t sure if there was an expectation of privacy in public places, and since crown prosecutors won’t approve charges without a substantial likelihood of conviction, video surveillance could aid in their decisions.

“People are very supportive of the RCMP or other police departments in other jurisdictions having body cameras so their actions are recorded.

The person they’re recording in public, do they have an expectation of privacy? They’re being recorded by a camera for their protection,” said Cordeiro. “I don’t have an issue with it.”

Bujtas re-iterated that the cost might show that video cameras are not realistic, but finding the cost is just a first step.

“I think part of the costing is the legal challenges,” said Tyers.

“There is a reason you don’t walk down the streets in Vancouver and see public surveillance cameras in cities that can afford significant surveillance equipment: it’s because there’s a lot of legal challenges that come with that.”

Tyers added she could appreciate that when vandalism occurs, someone could look at the video and see the suspect, but someone could also watch the camera feed and wrongly interpret something as criminal behaviour even though there was no complaint to legitimately suspect it.

That type of situation is what turns into a legal challenge.

“I want to be on record that I’m adamantly opposed to video surveillancing the mass public on making sure people behave in that way. It just gets to a level of something I am so not comfortable with.”

Councillor Michael Prevost agreed. “I’ve also read about similar [court] rulings so if we are going to be proceeding with it, we better do it very carefully.”

Councillor Brian Downie said council should also look at circumstances where cameras are used elsewhere, where and under what circumstances the courts have said they can be used and how it applies to the city.

“If the courts said in the situation that we’re thinking of that it’s not appropriate, then we would be wise to keep that in mind.”

Council voted 4-2 in favour of researching the cost of video surveillance cameras in the downtown core.