Ottawa lawyers back call for police cameras

Ottawa defence lawyers are calling for all police officers to be equipped with body cameras, supporting a call for the devices made by the Ottawa Police Association earlier this month.

Video evidence would protect citizens from police abuse, lawyers say

A police officer in Oakland, California, shows a video camera worn by members of his police force. Ottawa defence lawyers and the Ottawa Police Association are both calling for local officers to wear similar cameras. (Jeff Chiu/Associated Press)

Ottawa defence lawyers are calling for all police officers to be equipped with body cameras, supporting a call for the devices that was made by the Ottawa Police Association earlier this month.

While the police association argued that the cameras are needed to protect officers from frivolous lawsuits, the defence lawyers say the cameras would help protect citizens from police who abuse their authority.

"The most powerful piece of evidence in the Stacy Bonds case was the complete video record of what happened," said Matthew Weber, Bonds's lawyer.

In 2008, Bonds was arrested, kneed several times, pinned to the floor and had her clothes cut off by Ottawa police — all of which was captured on cellblock video.

Weber, along with the Defence Counsel Association of Ottawa, wants video evidence for all clients. 

With cameras, "we don't have to debate what happened or what was said to the accused. We know, and thus fairness is inevitable," he said.

'An accurate record'

The police force could start with cameras in their cars, Weber said.

"If you had a full record of the accused in the back of the cruiser who just blurted something out, there would be nothing to litigate," he said. "It enables us to ensure that our client is being tried … on an accurate record."

The Ottawa Police Association said earlier this month that a camera around the ear or attached to a radio on the chest could help police gather crucial evidence.

"Judicially, we have become so much under attack that I think it's important to have our side explained," said association president Matthew Skof.

Eli El-Chantiry, chair of the Ottawa Police Services Board, said he needs more information about the cameras, which cost about $1,800 a unit.

He said he is not sure about the legalities or the cost benefit.

Edmonton police are trying out the small cameras as part of a pilot project, while police in Victoria, B.C., experimented with the cameras in 2009 before abandoning them because of cost.

The cameras have been used by police forces in the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom.