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Civil rights group condemns recycled police proposal for video surveillance

Encourages citizens and groups to write Police Board to oppose ill-conceived project

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association has sent a letter to the Vancouver Police Board urging it to reject the latest recommendation of the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) to create a wide-ranging network of public video surveillance, initially in the Downtown Eastside. The VPD’s proposal is the second attempt by the VPD to convince the Police Board and the public of the merits of public video surveillance after the Police Board sent the first proposal back to VPD for further research and consultation in 1999.

The BCCLA is also urging groups and citizens across the city to respond immediately to the Vancouver Police Board and City Council with their opposition to the scheme. The VPD and Vancouver Police Board are inviting public comments on the CCTV proposal until February 28, 2002.

This latest VPD proposal recommends that 23 cameras be permanently mounted in the Downtown Eastside, Gastown, Chinatown and Strathcona communities. In addition, the VPD want to add 2 mobile cameras to deal with the problems of displacing crime caused by the stationary cameras. The original VPD proposal recommended 16 cameras but was increased when businesses outside of surveillance range lobbied for more cameras. The cameras would have the capacity to pan whole streets and to zoom in on targets for close up surveillance.

Dale Beyerstein, BCCLA Board member and author of the BCCLA position, noted that the recycled version of the proposal does not address the problems that the BCCLA raised after the first VPD proposal:

“You would have thought that after more than two years, the police would have at least responded to our criticisms of their first proposal. Yet, they have ignored our concerns and many of those of the B.C. Information and Privacy Commissioner, David Loukidelis.”

The BCCLA’s letter comes on the heels of a well-attended public meeting last week in Vancouver in which the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, George Radwanski, also spoke out against the VPD proposal. Mr. Radwanski’s speech is available here>>

According to Beyerstein: “Video surveillance on our city’s streets will have a negative impact on citizens’ privacy. Even the police acknowledge that in their report. But just as important, the police have not made out the case that video surveillance would actually reduce overall crime. CCTV would be a costly social experiment that will not reduce crime but target marginalized people and make them privacy poor.”

Though the VPD document uses the phrase “Discussion Document” in its title, it is clearly an attempt to sell the virtues of video surveillance. According to the proposal: “Vancouver stands prominent as an ideal candidate for a CCTV system, which provides citizens an interactive window to their neighbourhood. Properly designed, through community involvement, a Vancouver based CCTV system has the potential to become the showcase for all future public video surveillance systems on this continent.”

Dale Beyerstein: “It sounds like the police are more interested in bidding for the CCTV Olympics than providing an objective assessment of the merits of video surveillance. This kind of boosterism undermines the whole credibility of the proposal.”

“Moreover, it is beyond Orwellian for the police to suggest that CCTV will provide citizens with an ‘interactive window’ on their neighbourhood. With statements like this and the fact that the police acknowledge in the document that video tapes will be used in civil litigation, it won’t be long till everyone’s face is scanned using biometric technology. Anyone with different political beliefs from the police would need a lot of courage to hand out pamphlets within the range of the cameras. And anyone engaging in perfectly legal activities such as visiting a psychiatrist or an adult literacy centre in the area will be filmed going into the building. The police watching you on monitors will be free to snigger at you, and you will never know. They will watch you without you being able to watch them doing so.”

The BCCLA has been encouraging groups and citizens, especially in the Downtown Eastside, to write the Police Board with their concerns. The BCCLA is now expanding its call for opposition to the CCTV proposal to include the entire city given that video cameras will spread everywhere if installed in the Downtown Eastside. “That is the necessary logic of video surveillance. The displacement effect means that you need more and more cameras to deal with displaced crime,” added Mr. Beyerstein.

Read the BCCLA position on Surveillance here>>