Montreal police to install playground cameras, blindsiding local community groups

To combat gun violence, four of the nine new cameras will be placed in children's parks, including Parc Nelson-Mandela in Côte-des-Neiges, Parc Ferland in Saint-Léonard and Parc des Roseraies in Anjou.

Comes after cameras were installed in four boroughs last fall

Montréal-Nord's Henri-Bourassa Park, pictured here in 2018, is one of the spaces that will be getting a Montreal police camera. (CBC)

Ousseynou Ndiaye was shocked to learn Montreal police would not only be installing a public camera in his neighbourhood, but would be installing it in a children's playground.

Ndiaye, the executive director of Un itinéraire pour tous — a Montréal-Nord community group that provides social services to residents — participated in Montreal's inaugural forum on armed violence, but was unaware of the move to put a camera in Parc Henri-Bourassa, just down the street from his organization.

"I don't feel comfortable with them going ahead with it, without holding a consultation," he said. "The decision needs to be justified."

The Montreal police service (SPVM) will be adding nine more cameras in public spaces in the coming months. It comes after the SPVM installed nine cameras last fall across the Montréal-Nord, Rivière-des-Prairies, Saint-Michel and Sud-Ouest boroughs.

A total of 42 public cameras will be set up in Montreal by the end of the year.

The police say to combat gun violence, four of the nine new cameras will be placed in children's parks, Parc Nelson-Mandela in Côte-des-Neiges, Parc Ferland in Saint-Léonard and Parc des Roseraies in Anjou.

The SPVM told CBC News in a statement that locations receiving cameras are prioritized based on "an increase in violent crime, including gun violence" and result from a consultation between neighborhood stations and the SPVM's criminal investigation units.

"The role of the urban security camera is to have a beneficial effect on the sense of security for all people who live, pass through or frequent the area, including the most vulnerable clientele," they said. "It is also a tool to help fight crime."

New camera located in Cabot Square

Police say one of the new cameras will be placed at the intersection of Lambert-Closse and Saint-Catherine Streets, on the periphery of Cabot Square, after the area saw an increase in violent crimes, including a murder last October.

Nakuset, co-director of Resilience Montreal, which is located across the square, says her group wasn't consulted before police announced the news.

She says she asked for cameras to be set up in the square years ago when she first started the Cabot Square Project, but her requests were ignored.

Since the Raphaël André Memorial Tent has been operating in the square for more than a year, she says staff alert the police whenever there's a security issue. The tent supports hundreds of vulnerable people per day.

The Raphaël Memorial Tent in Cabot Square has served vulnerable clientele since February 2021. (Chloë Ranaldi/CBC)

"We don't find that [shootings] happen very often," she said. "There are other places in Montreal where there are shootings. This is not happening around Cabot Square."

"Those moving into the condos, they may want to have more security there. And this is why we really have to start working on cohabitation."

The SPVM says the camera does not target the tent, but "the intersection of the park more broadly."

Lack of evidence supporting measure

The SPVM did not provide CBC News with any data showing a decrease in crime in public spaces with cameras.

Without proof of cameras' effectiveness in reducing crime, the Ligue des droits et libertés, a human rights group, isn't convinced they will make communities safer.

Catherine Descoteaux, a co-ordinator for the group, says she's concerned about cameras facilitating racial profiling and their impact on community members' privacy.

"Even when we're in a public space, we still have the right for anonymity," she said. "This anonymity is an essential component of the right to have a private life."

Ndiaye says although many Montréal-Nord residents were in favour of having two other security cameras installed in the borough because of crime, the point isn't to have one on every street corner.

"We don't want [cameras] to become abusive," he said. "Today, it's Parc Henri-Bourassa. Tomorrow, we don't know where they will be next."