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RCMP expands on Iqaluit's nine-month body-worn camera pilot project

Iqaluit RCMP will be the first detachment in the country to use body-worn cameras when a pilot program rolls out at the end of November.

Iqaluit RCMP will be outfitting its officers with body-worn cameras as part of a nine-month pilot program that will be rolled out at the end of next month. By February of next year all officers at the detachment will be wearing cameras. photo courtesy of RCMP

“I do think, although it's not a perfect solution, it's going to enhance our ability to work with members of the community,” said Insp. Adam MacIntosh, Operations manager for V Division during an Oct. 28 press conference. “If our officers behave in any way that warrants review, the cameras will allow us to do that.”

At the press conference, MacIntosh revealed the pilot project will roll out in three phases beginning on November 30.

The first phase will see eight of the detachment's 24 members – with two officers on each of the Iqaluit RCMP's four shifts – wearing the cameras. Beginning January 11, 16 officers – or four per shift – will be outfitted. Finally on February 15, all 24 officers are expected to be wearing the camera.

“It is critically important for Nunavummiut to feel protected,” said MacIntosh at the press conference.

The pilot project is expected to run for about nine months. Whether or not it continues or is expanded will depend on what national RCMP decides to do, MacIntosh said.

MacIntosh said the detachment has been working on a policy on how the cameras will be used by officers. That document, which has not yet been made public is being shared with different levels of government for review at the moment, according to MacIntosh.

A pivotal part of the policy is that RCMP will be required to inform members of the public that they are being recorded. While not many members of the force are fluent in Inuktitut, they will be trained to say in Inuktitut: “this is recording.”

“That's something of course that we've had to look into.”

MacIntosh said that officers will have discretion on what to turn the cameras on, however the objective is that all officers will turn the camera on when going to a call for service.

“There's appropriate times to turn it off to respect privacy and an appropriate time to turn it on for an investigation,” he said. “It all comes down to respect.”

He added that officers will not have access to the files which they record, as the cameras download all information automatically when they are plugged into the system.

MacIntosh said RCMP will be relying on feedback from members of the public to gauge the success of the pilot project.

In order to do that, a public information campaign, which will involve posters, social media posts and radio announcements, will be rolled out over the next few months.

Macintosh said cameras are being provided by RCMP headquarters, which has stockpiled different models over the years, however, he was unable to provide details on the cost of the project as a whole.

“The cost is yet to be measured exactly,” he said. “Some of the costs exists already in that we own the cameras already.”

Politicians, government weigh in on body cams

Nunavut Justice Minister Jeannie Ehaloak made a strong statement in favour of body cameras in the legislative assembly on Oct. 23.

"This cabinet is aware of systemic racism in Nunavut, and we as a cabinet are working very hard to ensure that systemic racism stops and it stops at this level first,” said Ehaloak. “We try to tell our constituents and we inform them of what systemic racism is and the first step, I believe, is through the body-worn cameras. It makes our RCMP officers and the public itself accountable to the people they serve."

The justice minister signalled that federal financial assistance will be sought to deploy the devices across Nunavut because “our financial resources within the department are very limited.”

Nunavut Senator Dennis Patterson, who assembled a round-table of political leaders, law-enforcement representatives and technology experts to examine the issue of body cameras in late June, said there are numerous questions to be answered about policies and practices but he believes the RCMP is sincere in its intentions to consult local leaders in crafting guidelines.

“They (the Mounties) were very clear that they're anxious to build community acceptance and community trust in this new initiative,” Patterson said, adding that Nunavummiut will be able to submit suggestions to the RCMP in writing and online. “There is a commitment to transparency here that I think will be welcomed by the public.”

Northern Affairs Minister Dan Vandal assured that “Inuit partners and other partners in Nunavut” will be invited to provide input “to make this work as best as it can.”

Vandal, who referred to the initial implementation of body cameras as “very positive news,” said this Iqaluit trial is the first phase of a roll out that will eventually go nationwide.

“We believe it will encourage improved behaviour on the public and the police. It's going to enhance evidence-gathering to support potential prosecutions,” the minister said.

He added that the RCMP will be trusted to oversee the storage of video footage.

“I have confidence that RCMP will manage (it) well,” said Vandal.

However, outgoing Nunavut information and privacy commissioner Elaine Keenan Bengts made it clear in her 2019-20 annual report that body cameras pose serious ethical issues and may not solve problems.

“While I completely understand the sentiments ... and agree with the need for greater police accountability, body-worn cameras are not the panacea that will fix law enforcement overreach. The use of body cameras raises complex policy issues and huge privacy risks for the public as a whole, including victims and bystanders, without necessarily addressing the issue of police violence,” Keenan Bengts wrote. “In fact, research suggests that police worn body cameras do not change police behaviour and footage is more often used against the public than to keep officers honest. I urge caution and careful consideration before Nunavut plunges into a requirement for RCMP in the communities to wear body cams.”

– with files from Derek Neary