Montreal police are planning to install nine more security cameras across the city in response to a rise in violent crime, but community groups are questioning whether the technology works to deter crime or is a waste of money.
With the addition of the nine cameras — costing up to $11,000 each — the police say they plan to operate a surveillance network of 42 cameras in the city by the end of the year. City police refused to be interviewed about the network, instead referring all questions to their website, which states that the locations of the cameras were chosen "following an analysis" of violent crime in the city.
The province says violent crime, especially gun-related crime, has risen in Montreal since 2016. But Université de Montréal criminology professor Rémi Boivin says he doesn't know how the police could justify adding more surveillance cameras across the city.
"If the objective is to prevent crime, I would answer that, first of all, it does not work, and secondly, (the police) already know that," Boivin said in an interview Monday.
He was part of a research project that analyzed the first series of public surveillance cameras police installed in Montreal in 2010, and he said the results indicated the preventive impacts of cameras on violent crime were "inconclusive."
"Crimes against someone are easily movable," he said in an interview Monday. "If they don't occur in a park where there's a camera, will they happen in the next one where there's no surveillance?"
Cameras will be installed in four parks across the city and in other locations, including downtown's Cabot Square, a common gathering place for Indigenous people experiencing homelessness.
On their website, the police say they informed "certain partner organizations" about the plan to install the cameras. But Ousseynou Ndiaye, executive director of a community group in the Montréal-Nord borough, says he was never consulted.
"We don't want the violent crime issue to be taken care of by installing more security cameras everywhere," Ndiaye, with the group Un itinéraire pour tous, said in an interview Monday.
"The problem is deeper than that. Thinking you can resolve it with cameras is completely missing the point."
He isn't entirely opposed to surveillance cameras, however. Last fall, his group worked with police to install cameras in the borough. "Everybody was supportive of it," he said.
But this time, Ndiaye said the police didn't consult, adding that he fears the surveillance network will become abusive.
"I would have liked to analyze the cameras that are already there," Ndiaye said. "Did they work in preventing crimes .... How much have we invested in the community to support vulnerable people? How much did we pay for those cameras?"
Police in other Canadian cities, including Toronto, are also adding surveillance cameras. Last summer, Ontario announced a total of $6 million over three years for police forces to buy more security cameras. Toronto police already have more than 30 cameras and plan to expand the network to 74 by 2028, a police spokesperson said Monday.
The Quebec government has invested tens of millions of dollars in the last several months to fight violent crime, particularly in the Montreal area. Public Security Minister Geneviève Guilbault has said the number of attempted gun-related murders in the Montreal area quadrupled between 2016 and 2020. There were 25 homicides in Montreal in 2020 and 37 in 2021.
It's the murders of young people in the Montreal area that have galvanized authorities to take action.
In February, Lucas Gaudet, a 16-year-old high school student, was fatally stabbed following an altercation outside a high school on Montreal's West Island. In January, Amir Benayad, 17, was shot in the Plateau-Mont-Royal borough in Montreal's first homicide of 2022.
In 2021, Hani Ouahdi, 20, was shot dead in a car in the city’s east-end Anjou district in December. In mid-November, Thomas Trudel, 16, was shot in the St-Michel borough as he walked home from a park. Jannai Dopwell-Bailey, 16, died after being stabbed outside his school last October. And in February of that year, Meriem Boundaoui, 15, was killed in a drive-by shooting in the St-Leonard borough.
Fo Niemi, executive director of Montreal-based civil rights group Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations, says he's concerned the police are investing money in surveillance technology instead of community-based programs to prevent crime.
"There's a need for a public discussion, whether this is going to be a growing trend," Niemi said in an interview Monday.
"There's a little bit of disconnect in terms of information for the public. That's something the city and the police should consider, because transparency is essential to earn and maintain communities' trust and co-operation."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on March 8, 2022.
Virginie Ann, The Canadian Press