Body cams

As we write in our front page story on our exclusive interview with Montreal’s new Police Chief Fady Dagher, there is room for optimism in bettering relations between police and Montrealers. Particularly those who are visible minorities. The new Chief has the right instincts on the major issues of the day from racial profiling to random police stops.

Perhaps most importantly, was his view on body cameras for police officers. Despite the fact that the SQ pilot project has not yet wrapped up, Chief Dagher said of body cams, “They are coming for sure.” We think the time is now for this to happen.

Not just because of the American experience from the George Floyd killing to last week’s horrifying video of Tyre Nichols. But because of our almost weekly experiences here at home. We think of Montrealers’ names which come back through our collective memory. Montrealers who had their own vicious run-ins with police and whose cases we advocated for. Stacy Evans, Courtney Bishop, Amal Asmar, Rohan Wilson,Joel DeBellefeuille and so many more. What connects them? They are citizens of colour.

The debate over whether there is systemic racism is truly moot. No one is going to find a memo instructing police to hassle visible minorities. The racism that exists is tragically instinctive in too large a minority of officers. That sad instinct that makes police officers stop Joel De Bellefeuille — as just one example — for driving a car that looked, “too expensive for a Black man.” A tragic instinct that led one officer to say his name sounded, “too Québecois for a Black man.”

What better way to protect police officers and those they “serve and protect” than police body cams? It will certainly make officers cautious as to their actions and words. And it will make some of our less than civil elements in the public think twice about attacking police officers. It’s not a silver bullet that will eliminate egregious actions in one fell swoop. But they would establish objective evidence of relations between civilians and police when there is a dispute.

It is such an obvious antedote — though not a panacea — to so many of the frictions that we can only wonder why Montreal hasn’t adopted them already as almost all major metropolitan forces on the continent have. We shouldn’t need an SQ pilot project. The pilot project should be a six month trial here, on the streets of Montreal, where so many of our problems in Quebec — particularly those of racial profiling — arise.

Because of the mounting cases of racism and brutality Prime Minister Trudeau not only encouraged the use of body cams by the RCMP but pushed Canada’s premiers to have them adopted within provincial and municipal police services. Former Toronto police chief and federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said, “I know from experience that video evidence can be the best possible evidence to give us all and the public a better understanding of exactly what transpired in a given situation.”

Montreal’s previous objection to body cams was the cost. But since the city has a $500 million commitment from Quebec from the last election to strengthen policing, that should no longer be an issue. In fact, despite the SQ’s pilot project now ongoing, The force actually bought 169 body cameras and 33 dashboard cameras in 2017 but has inexplicably yet to use them other than in the pilot project launched last year!

Alain Babineau, a former RCMP officer and advisor to the anti-racism group Red Coalition founded by De Bellefeuille, has long pushed for police use of body cameras in Montreal. As he put it so succinctly, they’re an “essential piece of equipment for policing in the 21st century.”

As Nike says let’s, “Just do it!”

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