Opposition seeks to override council, implement body cameras for Montreal police

In this Dec. 11, 2014, file photo, a Philadelphia Police officer demonstrates a body-worn camera being used as part of a Philadelphia Police pilot project in the department's 22nd District, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

A year after Montreal city council rejected the use of body cameras by police officers, the opposition is calling on its "rapid implementation" to reduce racial profiling.

Ensemble Montreal announced Tuesday it plans to table a motion at the next city council meeting to impose the use of body cameras, adding it is working alongside community groups and independent council members on the matter.

"With regard to racial profiling, in the past year, there's been no improvement. On the contrary, things have gotten worse," said Abdelhaq Sari, Ensemble Montreal spokesperson for public safety, in a statement.

Sari pointed to a damning report last fall on stop-and-checks that found in Montreal, an Indigenous person was 4.6 times more likely to be stopped for a "street check" than a white person, and a black person was 4.2 times more likely to be stopped. Arab Montrealers were also twice as likely to be stopped as white Montrealers.

The opposition is asking city council to override the decision its executive committee made last year to not implement the use of body cams, when, after a pilot project, it determined the cost was not worth the results. The $3.4-million pilot project saw 78 officers wear cameras between May 2016 and April 2017.

A report on the pilot project estimates it would take roughly five years and $17.4 million to equip about 3,000 front-line officers with body cameras. It would cost an additional $24 million a year to maintain the camera program, equal to four per cent of the force's current annual operating budget.

Independent city councillor Marvin Rotrand claims a new report shows the Montreal police improperly assessed the costs of the project by using, for example, the most expensive technology for video data storage.

"These cameras have proven their worth in other cities," said Sari. "Our motion calls on the Plante administration to review its previous decision."

The motion is supported by groups including the Center for Research Action on Race Relations (CRARR), which called it "highly appropriate" at the start of Black History Month.

"What Montrealers tell us is the issue of racial profiling is far from being resolved. We have to put the subject of body cams back on the table," said Alain Babineau of CRARR, adding that the organization believes body cameras "will protect both police and residents. It's a win-win."

The motion is set to be debated at city council on Feb. 24.