The Vancouver Police Department would like to see a closed-circuit television system installed to monitor crowds during the 2010 Olympic Winter Games undergo an extensive review.
According to Const. Lindsey Houghton, it is ultimately up to Vancouver city council whether the 89 cameras stay or go. But the VPD spokesperson said that the police should be considered one of several stakeholders involved in that decision.
However, Vision Vancouver councillor Andrea Reimer told the Straight that procedures are already in motion to remove all of the cameras from where they were installed in the run up to the Games.
Some will likely be removed before then and, depending on staff resources, some may remain up a little longer, Reimer said. But monitoring of the cameras’ feeds will cease at midnight on March 29.
“That was clear from the outset of the decision to use them for the Olympic Games at all,” she emphasized.
Ever since city council approved financing for the CCTV system in March 2009, privacy advocates have cried foul. Opponents of the system such as the B.C. Civil Liberties Association’s Micheal Vonn expressed concern that the cameras would never be removed, which was the case in Athens, Greece, after the 2004 Olympics.
According to Reimer, the city will hold on to 14 of the 89 cameras for possible deployment in cases of “large events”. The remaining 75 will be sold.
Anticipating the Straight’s next round of questions, Reimer then said that a protocol to define what constitutes a “large event” was being worked out, and that the cameras were purchased and not leased because that was the cheaper course of action.
Houghton told the Straight that the Vancouver Police Department found the CCTV cameras “very useful” during the Games.
He recalled one incident where a 16-year-old boy was struck by a car as tens of thousands of people spilled out onto the streets after an Olympic hockey game.
The accident was actually witnessed on the city’s CCTV system in real time, which allowed for an ambulance to be dispatched almost immediately, Houghton said. What’s more, in a situation where most witnesses would have left the scene before authorities could arrive, the VPD was able to see exactly how the accident occurred.
“So from an investigative point of view, that’s extremely helpful,” he added.
Asked if the Olympic CCTV system was used to monitor demonstrations during the Games, Houghton replied that if protesters moved through areas monitored by CCTV cameras, that information could be used by the VPD.
Vonn, policy director for the BCCLA, said that it “remains to be seen” if her organization’s privacy concerns will be addressed.
“We are in a bit of a holding pattern here,” she told the Straight. “We will be very happy to give kudos where they are deserved, once we are actually sure what is going on.”
Vonn was less worried about an additional 900 CCTV cameras installed in and around Olympic venues. Those were leased as opposed to purchased, she noted. And they are controlled by the Vancouver 2010 Integrated Security Unit, which will be disbanded after the conclusion of the Paralympic Games.
But Vonn still questioned both the city’s and the ISU’s claims on the future of the CCTV equipment.
“The truth is that there has been such an effort made to obfuscate the issues of the cameras that we are not having a very trusting relationship at this point,” she said.
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