Oppenheimer Park homeless campers facing eviction tonight
Vancouver police will be wearing GoPro cameras while city moves to dismantle the homeless camp
Campers in Vancouver's Oppenheimer Park on the Downtown Eastside have until 10 p.m. PT tonight to leave, according to a B.C. Supreme Court injunction granted to the City of Vancouver last week.
The potential for confrontation has also led the Vancouver police to outfit its officers with wearable video cameras which they are deploying for the first time.
Police Chief Jim Chu said as many as eight officers will have small GoPro video cameras strapped to their chests as they oversee the city's efforts to dismantle homeless protest camp.
The force described its decision to use body-mounted cameras as a limited trial, and Chu stressed there has been no decision about whether to put such devices into widespread use among patrol officers.
"We think the body-worn video will prevent people from acting in a difficult or violent manner," Chu said Tuesday. "We believe people will behave better when they know they're being recorded."
Tents in the park sprouted up in late July, eventually prompting an eviction notice from the city's park board, as well as citations from the fire department.
Chu said police didn't have specific information to suggest there would be violence or other problems at the homeless camp.
Privacy rights vs police interests
Josh Paterson, executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, expressed concerns about the body-mounted video cameras, saying police forces must adopt comprehensive policies to ensure the technology isn't abused.
"We know that it can be quite useful under certain circumstances, but there needs to be clear protocols in place that balance the interests of police on the one hand with privacy rights," said Paterson.
Paterson said the Vancouver Police Department should have created such protocols before using body-mounted cameras, even on a limited basis.
Meanwhile, it remains unclear what will happen when the injunction at the homeless camp takes effect Wednesday night.
Vancouver police said officers will be on hand to keep the peace as city workers dismantle the camp and anyone who ignores the injunction could face arrest.
The police chief said municipal staff would be referring people to housing providers and shelters.
But D.J. Larkin, a lawyer with Pivot Legal Society, which has represented the campers in Oppenheimer Park, said it's possible the park still won't be cleared by the end of the night.
"My understanding is that not everyone has been connected with a meaningful alternative and a lot of people are still wondering where they're going to go," said Larkin.
Larkin says this may not be the right time to bring in cameras.
"Tomorrow night could be very, very emotional and very destabilizing for a lot of people who are left here," she said.
"And those are the people who really don't have other safe options and who really can't access the shelter system so to be filmed in that context, we hope that it won't escalate the situation, but we feel that it may."
"I can't predict whether it will be empty by 10 p.m., but what I can say is that it's really, really full right now. It will take a massive effort for people to move on in the next 24 hours."
With files from Brady Strachan and the Canadian Press