Civil liberties group slams Penticton RCMP call for public to install CCTV | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source
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Civil liberties group slams Penticton RCMP call for public to install CCTV

A recent push by Penticton RCMP to have local residents and businesses install video surveillance has been described as "scary" and "dangerous" by a B.C human rights organization.

"It's opening up the flood gates to police surveillance and doing it without the checks and balances we would expect from a liberal democracy," B.C. Civil Liberties Association policy director Meghan McDermott told iNFOnews.ca.

The issue arises after the Penticton RCMP put out a media release, Nov. 29, encouraging the public to install video surveillance following the success it has had in several recent cases that were solved due to the use of the video footage.

"We want to encourage local businesses and citizens to consider installing video surveillance, as this is one of best methods we have of identifying suspects," Penticton RCMP said in the release. "Being able to provide us with good quality video, we may learn the direction the suspect left, in what vehicle they may have used, and a more accurate physical description or characteristic."

However, McDermott says there's a lot of responsibility that goes with video surveillance and obligations under privacy laws.

"There are proposing a shortcut for the proper way of gathering police surveillance," McDermott said. "We don't rely on people to do surveillance on each other and then hand it over to the state without any kind of legal thresholds being met."

McDermott said the fact Penticton RCMP even proposed the idea is problematic.

In the media release, Penticton RCMP suggests when setting up a video surveillance system the public should consider having at least 30 days of recording time, getting a higher resolution camera and using angles that can capture a close-up of a person's face. RCMP also suggest having a system that can simply download the footage onto an external memory device.

McDermott points out that Canada largely does not have CCTV cameras that are run by the state.

"We don't have a surveillance society because we have our Charter rights, we have the right to move around in public and in private and be free from surveillance," she said.

McDermott said it's a lengthy legal process for police to be allowed to use surveillance cameras.

"If it's so good for communities for police to have eyes and ears everywhere all the time then let (the RCMP) make that case to the court because that's how our constitution works," McDermott said.

McDermott accuses the Penticton RCMP of offloading the issue onto the public because it knows it would be next to impossible to be allowed to set up such cameras itself.

READ MORE: Penticton's top cop credits video surveillance for helping solve crime

However, while many people don't like the idea of being under the watchful eye of closed-circuit television it's hard to deny that it can work.

In November, Penticton's top cop Supt. Brian Hunter pointed to six cases where video surveillance had been used successfully.

He credited surveillance footage as aiding an investigation into two men who used a hammer to rob 70-year-old at an ice cream parlour this summer, as well as robberies at gas stations in Okanagan Falls and Skaha Lake.

A hit and run in Summerland last August was solved after citizens captured the incident on their cell phones. The arrest led to police recovering stolen property and weapons.

Cameras at a Shopper Drug Mart led to an arrest the day after a man threatened staff with bear spray just when they were closing up the store.

Surveillance cameras also keep an eye on the police themselves.

Vernon-based defence lawyer Claire Mastop said cameras can act as a "truly unbiased witness with a perfect memory" and help keep police more accountable.

"A lot of cops create a narrative based more on what they should have done than what they actually did," Mastop said. "So the risk of footage emerging might help keep them more honest."

Mastop points to multiple cases in the U.S. but also closer to home.

In August, a Kelowna RCMP officer was charged following a violent wellness check on a UBC Okanagan student in January 2020. The incident was captured on camera and led to widespread condemnation.

Another Kelowna Mountie was charged in the spring after videos captured the officer during a violent arrest in Kelowna’s downtown.

While Mastop admits video surveillance does have some "1984 undertones," she says it should result in fewer wrongful convictions.

McDermott with the civil liberties association says communities can work together as neighbours to make themselves safer and through neighbourhood associations.

"If (cameras) became a pervasive practice it would just really erode human rights even more," she said.


To contact a reporter for this story, email Ben Bulmer or call (250) 309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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