Montreal

Quebec provincial police will test out body cameras in 4 regions

The Sûreté du Québec will soon outfit 10 officers with body cams in each of the four regions, as part of a pilot project aimed at testing out the technology.

Advocates question whether more trials are needed when body cams are already used elsewhere

A handful of Quebec provincial police officers will wear body cameras as part of a pilot project. (Sûreté du Québec)

The Quebec provincial police force will soon outfit officers with body cams in four regions, as part of a pilot project aimed at testing out the technology.

In Rimouski-Neigette, Drummondville, Beauharnois-Salaberry and Val-d'Or, officers will be given the portable cameras to use during most police interventions for a period of six months, the Sûreté du Québec and government officials announced at a briefing Monday.

Only 10 officers will take part in the pilot project in each region.

The project's launch is staggered, starting with Rimouski-Neigette on Monday.

In Rimouski-Neigette and Beauharnois-Salaberry, the cameras can be turned on and off manually, but there is a list of types of interventions officers must have them on for. 

The list varies by region. For example, in Rimouski, the cameras will be mandatory for most police interventions like arrests and use of force.

But in Val d'Or, the cameras will only go on for street checks and limited police interventions, when a person is in distress or crisis.

In Val-d'Or and Drummondville, there is also an automatic function on the cameras that turns them on as soon as an officer pulls their firearm or stun gun out of its holder. 

The SQ says the reason the project varies from region to region is so the force can test different strategies and see what works best.

Transparency needed going forward

Édith Cloutier,​​ executive director of the Val-d'Or Native Friendship Centre, said she thinks the automatic function is a good thing, and that video footage might help shed light on how police interactions with vulnerable people play out.

"Cameras can be seen as a solution to allegations of misconduct or racism or lack of transparency," said Cloutier, who is from the ​​Anishnabe Nation.

However, Cloutier added that she was disappointed to learn about the pilot project when it was announced Monday morning, rather than being consulted or informed in advance.

Édith Cloutier is the executive director of the Native Friendship Centre of Val-d'Or. (Paul Brindamour)

​​​​​In Val-d'Or, a city where several Indigenous women have come forward with allegations of police abuse, Cloutier said the relationship between police and the community is still "very fragile."

"We need to be working on building a stronger trust," she told CBC. "People want to feel safe when they have interventions from police. Will the cameras be a tool to increase safety and a sense of security and increase the level of trust between the Indigenous citizens and police officers? Well, that will have to be demonstrated through this pilot project."

One thing Cloutier wants to see come out of this is transparency about the results of the six-month project.

"At least to make sure that results about the pilot project — that this is done in transparency, that this is not kept in the hands of the SQ to evaluate the impact or the outcome, positive or negative, of such a pilot project."

"If we really want to move forward in building that relationship between citizens and police force, I think it has to begin by sitting together and having a joint evaluation of the results and not wait 12 months from now."

The Nunavik police force in Northern Quebec has been conducting a portable camera project of its own, with 18 cameras being used by officers and more being deployed. It plans to share its findings with the Public Security Ministry.

Protesters outside Montreal police headquarters last spring, following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Floyd's death sparked renewed calls for greater police transparency and accountability in Quebec and Montreal. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Why another pilot project?

Tracy Wing, whose 17-year-old Riley Fairholm was shot and killed in a provincial police intervention in Lac-Brome, Que., in July 2018, said she is frustrated that the province is choosing to launch a pilot project instead of outfitting all SQ officers across the province with the cameras immediately. 

"It's technology that's being used all over North America and in major cities throughout Canada, and of course in the United States," Wing said in an interview Sunday, prior to the announcement.

"It's already tried and true and it's effective." 

Tracy Wing, left, and her family are still looking for answers three years after Riley Fairholm was shot and killed in a police intervention. (Sarah Leavitt/CBC)

She believes that, had SQ officers been wearing cameras the night of her son's death, Quebec's police watchdog would have been able to better understand the situation and given her family clarity. 

"The night that my son died, there were six police officers and my son — and they're the only witnesses," said Wing. " I think a body cam would be able to explain a lot of those things and we wouldn't have to rely on the police's version." 

Montreal police launched a similar pilot project back in 2018, but ultimately gave the cameras a thumbs down after a year-long trial. 

That project involved 78 SPVM officers and the force concluded the body cameras had little impact on police interventions and would cost far too much. 

Fo Niemi, director of the Center for Research-Action on Race Relations, said body cameras are essential in preventing incidents of racial profiling and in holding officers accountable. 

"It's about time because body cams are going to be the way of the future," he said of the pilot project.

"With all the recent shootings in the United States, we have seen how body cams can make a difference in terms of the evidence, in terms of providing for a very complete version of exactly what happened." 

CRARR director Fo Niemi says body cameras are essential for preventing incidents of racial profiling and holding police officers accountable. (CBC)

Niemi said the cost of the cameras should not be an issue. He said, in the time since the SPVM released its pilot project results, newer and more affordable options have come out. 

"The other thing, too, is a body cam may have this kind of conditioning effect on an officer's conduct and attitude or behaviours toward a citizen … it can be what we call life-saving and a life-changing device," he said. 

Niemi hopes the province's pilot project will encourage the SPVM to revisit its decision. 

Last February, Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante said she had asked Guilbault to have the SPVM join the project. 

With files from Valeria Cori-Manocchio, Simon Nakonechny

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