Somewhere inside the hulking headquarters of the Sûreté du Québec, dozens of body cameras that could be recording police interactions with the public
have been collecting dust for three years.
According to their union president, SQ officers want to use the cameras.
“We asked the employer to at least conduct a pilot project for a few years now,” said Pierre Veilleux, the president of L’Association des policiers provinciaux du Québec (APPQ).
A document obtained by Global News shows that in 2017, the SQ bought 169 body cameras, 33 dashboard cameras, and cloud storage space to store the videos. The total cost to taxpayers was $560,000. The SQ even created a training program for officers, with the goal of launching a pilot project. It never happened.
Now, the union claims Quebec’s crown prosecutors’ office (DPCP) is to blame for the unused cameras.
“For them, it’s a major problem,” Veilleux told Global News in June.
The union president said crown prosecutors are concerned about having the manpower and the equipment necessary to view, manage and bring body camera evidence to court.
“It would considerably increase their workload, so for them, it was hard to accept,” Veilleux explained.
In Calgary, every front-line police officer has been equipped with a body camera for over a year, begging the question of how prosecutors made it work there.
“It certainly required additional resources,” explained Jonathan Hak, who was a crown prosecutor in Calgary for over 30 years. “The disclosure unit had to increase its capacity to deal with that additional evidence.”
When Hak left his job as a prosecutor in 2018, body cameras were beginning to be implemented in Calgary. He now teaches forensic video analysis law.
“It would be a shame for any prosecution service to say, ‘No, we would rather not have this potentially valuable evidence because we don’t have the capacity to process it,’ that’s a real shame in our search for the truth,” Hak said.
Montreal criminal defence lawyer Philip Schneider says Quebec prosecutors have no trouble using other types of video evidence.
“We have the technology to bring to court social media evidence, people filming things with their cellphones, we have the technology to bring to court evidence from surveillance cameras. I’m sure the technology exists to bring this to court, too,” Schneider said.
Criminal defence lawyer Andrew Barbacki recognized that body cameras would create extra work for prosecutors to view and vet footage but points out the SQ is only working toward a pilot project, not to equip all of their 5,000 officers.
“For a pilot project, that can’t be that much work,” he said.
The Quebec Crown prosecutors’ office (known by the French acronym DPCP) refused to comment on Veilleux’s claims, telling Global News only that they supplied a legal opinion on body cameras to the SQ and left any decision up to the police force.
DPCP spokesperson Jean-Pascal Boucher would not say what was in the legal opinion. When Global News filed an access to information request to get it, the request was denied.
“I have hope,” said Veilleux.
He hopes widespread demands for greater police accountability since the death of George Floyd in the United States will push the SQ to finally start the pilot project by the end of the year. He said the force was able to return the 33 dashboard cameras to the supplier, but he did not know whether the government got their money back. The SQ would only say that they are still working on putting the body camera pilot project forward.