A pilot project that is equipping Quebec provincial police officers with body cameras began on Monday and will involve officers in four regions of the province.
Ten Sûreté du Québec (SQ) officers in Rimouski, northeast of Quebec City, are kicking off the project and will wear body cameras for the next six months. The full project runs for 12 months.
Last year, Global News reported exclusively on how in 2017 the SQ bought 169 body cameras, 33 dashboard cameras and online cloud storage for $500,000. The cameras have been sitting on a shelf in SQ headquarters until now.
“Well, you know, we’re taking them out right now. That’s that’s the main thing,” said SQ spokesperson Lt. Benoit Richard, when asked what took so long.
READ MORE: Sûreté du Québec bought 169 body cameras three years ago, never used them
According to the SQ, the long delay was a result of an organizational decision to shelve a previous proposed pilot project.
After Global News reported on the unused cameras, Quebec’s public security ministry launched a committee to discuss the use of body cameras. Now, the pilot project has begun.
Officers have been mandated to manually activate the cameras during certain interventions such as when they are making arrests or conducting interviews for an investigation.
Public Security Minister Geneviève Guilbault said in a news release her department launched the pilot project to improve trust between citizens and police.
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The pilot project will take place in four different areas. Rimouski is the first area to test out the cameras. Drummondville, the Valleyfield and Beauharnois areas, and Val d’Or will follow. Ten officers will wear cameras in each region, for 6 months.
“The objectives we have are to strengthen the confidence of the population in regards of police interventions, and to assist in the technical and legal aspects of adding portable portable cameras to the police force,” Richard told Global News.
READ MORE: Police body cameras in Canada: How common are they and do they reduce excessive force?
In Val d’Or, where in 2015 SQ officers were accused of sexually abusing indigenous women, there is skepticism about the pilot project and whether it will help improve the relationship between citizens and the police.
“Hopefully this will be a step toward working on trust and increasing the sense of security for the people that do have to intervene with police,” said Edith Cloutier, executive director of the Val D’Or Native Friendship Centre.
Tracy Wing has been advocating for all provincial police officers to wear body cameras since her son was killed by SQ gunfire back in 2018 while he was in a mental health crisis.
She thinks the pilot project should have been wider.
READ MORE: Quebec coroner to hold public inquiry into 2018 police killing of Lac-Brome teen
“They have over 150 cameras sitting on a shelf, so you could easily equip many others in major cities,” Wing said. The SQ explained they need extra cameras for training and in case other ones break. They told Global News the technology of the 4-year-old cameras is still relevant today
The SQ says it does not expect the cameras to have much of an effect on officer behaviour, but Jonathan Hak, a former Calgary crown prosecutor who is an expert on video evidence, disagrees.
“If you know that your behavior is going to be recorded, you’re going to be mindful of that when you’re doing whatever you’re doing,” said Hak.
Calgary was the first large Canadian police force to have adopted the technology. Officers in that city were equipped with body cameras in 2019, and the Toronto Police Service has said it intends to outfit officers with body cameras this year.
The SQ expects to have a complete report on the pilot project by this winter.