Montreal's decision to nix police body cams disappoints alleged victims, advocates

For Montrealers who feel wronged by police, the adoption of police body cameras was seen as a way to hold officers accountable. But Mayor Valérie Plante decided not to use the devices.

'If the police knew they were being watched, it would have been different': Majiza Philip on 2014 arrest

Majiza Philip is suing the City of Montreal following a 2014 encounter with Montreal police that left her with a broken arm. (Sudha Krishnan/CBC)

Majiza Philip believes things would have played out differently if the police officers who arrested her four years ago had been wearing body cameras.

Philip was left with a broken arm — and, following surgery, six pins and a steel plate — after a 2014 encounter with Montreal police.

She was arrested outside Olympia Theatre after tapping on the window of a police cruiser, trying to get the attention of a friend detained inside.

Philip was charged with assaulting a police officer and obstructing justice.

There is no video of the incident, and Philip spent three years in and out of court fighting her case.

She was ultimately found not guilty and, last year, filed a lawsuit against the city for "unnecessary force" resulting in "tremendous pain and suffering."

"If the police knew they were being watched, it would have been different," she said Wednesday.

"I think one of the reasons they don't want them is because they don't want to be accountable."

Philip is among those disappointed by Mayor Valérie Plante's decision not to outfit the city's police force with body cameras.

Not a panacea

The move was made following a year-long pilot project involving 78 police officers. An SPVM report about the project released last week concluded body cameras have little impact on interventions, present logistical challenges and leave officers feeling as if they're under surveillance.

It also said supplying cameras for 3,000 police officers would cost $17.4 million over five years and another $24 million annually to run, given the labour and equipment costs involved.

Fo Niemi, executive director of the Montreal-based Center for Research-Action on Race Relations, which has advocated on Philip's behalf, said Plante's decision was too "hasty."

Niemi routinely takes on cases of people who allege they were mistreated by police. Often, though, there is little or no video to support their case.

"Right now, we have to rely on building cameras and cell phone cameras," he told CBC Montreal's Radio Noon.

Body cameras, he said, would "certainly help in terms of improving transparency of police — and perhaps changing the behaviour of police."

Privacy vs. transparency

Denis Barrette, a representative of Quebec's Ligue des droits et libertés, a civil rights group, said he would have liked a public debate about the issue.

While body cameras could help reduce excessive force, his group is also concerned about the potential infringement on people's privacy.

"We would have preferred to have a full public consultation around the question of body cameras and the question of transparency," he said.

In announcing her decision Wednesday, Plante left the door open to outfitting police with cameras in the future, given the rapid advances in technology.

She also said there are other ways to ensure police gain the trust of the community, making reference to the SPVM's 2018 plan to curb racial profiling.

About the Author

Sudha Krishnan

CBC Montreal journalist Sudha Krishnan works on CBC News Late Night and fills in on the anchor desk.

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