Auditions happened last weekend for the fab new reality TV program Candid Cop Camera. The soon-to-be hit show, produced and filmed by the Toronto police services, features protestors marching in Saturday's, March 19, anti-war demonstration.
At least that was what I figured was going on. How else can the fuzz explain their videotaping tactics? But my dreams of becoming a Canadian Protest Idol are burst by Toronto police services media honcho Mark Pugash.
He tells me there are two reasons the force uses cameras. "The best evidence is videotape," he says, referring to the possibility of confrontations between officers and demonstrators. "The second purpose is for training," presumably on deft ways of handling crowd control, though there's little evidence officers have learned much.
Any suggestion of sneakiness upsets Pugash, who politely says, "What we don't do is covert [taping]. It's very overt."
It's true, the cops with cameras are very easy to spot at protests. At the U.S. Consulate Saturday, a camera-toting 5-0 takes in everyone hurling epithets.
The U.S. Consulate public affairs rep is mortified at the suggestion that it was doing the filming. "The U.S. does not spy on Canadian citizens. The police were in charge. We depend on them and the RCMP for security."
Angling for attention, I do a "Down with Dubya!" routine on University. The cop videographer spends a few minutes filming my rant. I thought it was decent but have got no call-backs.
Now, should I be expecting a ring from 52 Division or the police's intelligence unit? Pugash won't say what department was out with the cameras. "It's not about identifying [anyone]," he reassures. "That smacks of covert."
Human rights lawyer Paul Copeland tells me all this is legal. "Anyone is allowed to tape. It's what they do with the material," he says. "In the U.S., they used to call [the photographers] 'red squads' who would photograph people who were progressive. For the purpose of prosecution, tapes are great."
The potential Big Brother vibe from cops openly filming protests might keep people from participating.
But Pugash doesn't think so. "I saw a good-humoured group of people doing something they believe in," he says of the march. He caught some of the protest while record-shopping on Yonge Street for two fabulous soul albums - Doris Duke and Wayne Cochran, a NOW pick of two weeks ago.
"The cameras are not menacing. People might oppose them, but they provide the best evidence."