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there’s no question police chiefJulian Fantino is a master when it comes to spinning city council to get what he wants.

He ratchets up the fear factor to secure an annual police budget increase. He performs impressive political gymnastics for pet projects like the police helicopter or top-ups for increased security measures.

It’s no surprise, then, that Fantino has begun manoeuvring around the controversial proposal for police video monitoring downtown.

Last fall, the video-obsessed Fantino quickly dismissed an opinion from Privacy Commissioner of Canada George Radwanski that raised serious concerns about state-sponsored video spying. But a more cautious and cash-strapped Fantino is now attempting to create the perception of distance between the police and the cameras – as if that will make the whole idea less scary.

The chief’s floating the formation of a multi-party steering committee to guide the project and requesting that city council put up millions to operate any future system themselves.

“A program involving monitoring activity in the public domain must be driven by the city/BIA/community rather than the police, to avoid ‘Big Brothers’ sentiments,” Fantino’s recent recommendations to the Police Service Board reads. “The perception of misuse or abuse of this medium by the police must be considered.”

So, has Fantino’s recent shift been influenced by privacy matters or cost?

“It’s a number of factors,” deputy police chief Michael Boyd tells NOW. “We’re suggesting that this matter could be looked after by the city while we can contribute our input into the process, and that might be met with more comfort from both the board and the citizens.”

Certainly, Radwanski has been touring the country sounding the alarm about video surveillance over the past several months. In a decision last fall, the federal privacy commish determined that RCMP video cameras on the streets of Kelowna, British Columbia, were “in contravention of the Privacy Act.”

Radwanski also maintained that “there is no persuasive evidence that video surveillance of public places is, in fact, an effective deterrent to crime.”


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