No surprise: G20 cams *not* down!


As of last week, this CCTV camera remained in place at Queen and Peter Streets, despite media reports that the security cameras erected for the G20 summit last June had been taken down.

Although Toronto Police announced the 71 CCTV cameras acquired for the G20 would be removed upon “the completion of the event, when there’s no longer an issue of security,” research has shown that mega-events such as the Olympics and global economic summits typically leave a security legacy. Equipment purchased and installed on an ostensibly temporary basis become incorporated into the permanent infrastructure, altering in subtle and obvious ways the physical and psychological terrain of the city.

“A distinctive attribute of securing contemporary mega-events is the increased use of technology,” including CCTV cameras, observe Boyle & Haggerty (2009). The desire to “seamlessly integrate technological, informational and human capabilities in order to hopefully anticipate, detect, and respond to security issues” concretizes in a security legacy that is quickly absorbed and naturalized as part of the cityscape.

This change in the security infrastructure of host cities is part of the legacy of mega-events: “the templates for what is entailed in being a global city consequently also undergo a change,” note Boyle and Haggerty, “increasingly appealing to urban exemplars that have been re-imagined in light of new security initiatives” (270). This is bound up in a process of “urban militarism”—the attempt “to translate long-standing military dreams of high-tech omniscience and rationality into the governance of urban civil society” Graham (2010).

So on November 17, when Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair told Metro Morning’s Matt Galloway of the proposal to purchase 52 of the G20 CCTV cameras, it came as no surprise. The only surprise was that this was considered news. On August 6, Toronto Star reporter Henry Stancu wrote of the Toronto Police Service’s intention to keep the security cameras, for which they paid half-price—about $175,000, with the federal government paying the balance. “The Toronto Police Service has ownership of them and they may or may not be deployed again,” said Meaghan Gray, of the police public information unit.

Blair insists that CCTV cameras are useful,  telling the media: “They’ve been very effective in the entertainment district but it’s starting to move a little bit west, so there’s some additional places we would like to deploy cameras.” He offered no evidence to substantiate his claims that police-owned cameras help “keep the city safe” or that they “have proven to be an invaluable investigative tool,” however.

In fact, research shows quite the opposite, pointing consistently to the relative inefficacy of CCTV cameras, except in parking lots. Although surveys about public perception of the crime prevention, reduction and solving capabilities of CCTV cameras abound, Ratcliffe (2006) notes that “evidence of actual crime reduction is harder to find.” Greenberg and Hier (2009) find that what evidence there is indicates “that surveillance cameras do not reduce the kinds of violent crime that citizens report to be most worried about (e.g., terrorism, muggings, rapes, et cetera).” A 2008 meta-analysis of 44 studies done on CCTV in the US and UK found that “CCTV schemes” in city centres, public housing and public transit “did not have a significant effect on crime” (Welsh & Farrington).  Nevertheless, as they note, “news coverage overwhelmingly focuses on violent signal crimes as the referent for increasing CCTV surveillance in public space” (473).

A Toronto Police report on its CCTV pilot program, which ran between May 2007-April 2008 in four neighbourhoods, does not offer strong support for continuing the program, let alone expanding it. It found that the cameras in the Entertainment District, where Chief Blair suggests the G20 CCTV cameras might be redeployed, “did not have a significant deterrent effect on violent crime” nor did they “appear to have had a significant effect on reducing the overall number of violent Calls for Service.” Findings as to whether the cameras assisted in criminal investigations were inconclusive.

Leveraging popular assumptions about CCTV as a force for crime reduction and prevention, as well as the media hype surrounding “violent anarchists” sure to descend upon Toronto, the TPS originally justified the additional G20 cameras as a means to “to ensure the safety and security for dignitaries, business owners, residents and people who work and visit the downtown area and protesters,” according to Police Const. Wendy Drummond. However, the cameras did little to protect citizens during the G20 weekend, when police engaged in flagrant abuse of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, including assault of peaceful demonstrators (and here and here and here),  illegal searches (and here and here),  warrantless raids on activist homes, and snatch and grab arrests, (and here). This was apparently in response to a small group of about 100 (out of 25,000) protesters, who used the Black Bloc tactic to engage in property damage for about 1.5 hours on Saturday June 25, causing police to abandon their mandate of service and protection, delivered in an “impartial, equitable, sensitive and ethical manner.” The Canadian Civil Liberties Association, in its preliminary report of observations made during the G20 summit, concluded that “police conduct during the G20 Summit was, at times, disproportionate, arbitrary and excessive.”

In this context of police violence, abuse of power and apparent lawlessness, the function of CCTV cameras, as part of the G20 security apparatus, shifted from that of crime prevention and public safety. It became, instead, forensic, with cameras upheld as investigative tools after the fact. Thus CCTV became enrolled into what Schneier (2008) calls “security theatre”—”security designed to make you feel more secure” (174). While the cameras did nothing to protect citizens from police abuse or harassment, they were touted as instruments of justice that would hold “G20 vandals” to account. It is important to note, however, that the majority of the 40,000 images collected in the “hunt for ringleaders” and others responsible for corporate property damage—80 percent by one media account—came from the public and not from police-owned security cameras. Further, the pictures released as part of the Toronto Police “most wanted” list appear to be taken at street level and not from the 12 metre height of the CCTV cameras.

CCTV as a “technology of security” was also  incorporated into the media spectacle of “rioting Black Bloc” and “Toronto burning,” despite the apparent impotence of G20 cameras—they neither prevented crime, ensured public safety nor assisted in crime solving. French Situationist Guy de Bord’s notion of spectacle is indeed fitting: as a tool of pacification and depoliticization, designed to stupefy and distract, now multiplied and magnified through the distorting lens of  corporate media. The emphasis on cameras for crime prevention and public safety shifted in the aftermath of Black Bloc vandalism and the violent police response. Members of the public were distracted from widespread police brutality as the TPS invited them to collaborate in their own surveillance by uploading private footage, anonymously, through its website.

In this context, CCTV was repositioned as a forensic tool designed to aid in solving  “violent crime” (as corporate property damage is portrayed), and in bringing  the “G20 vandals” to justice. Yet in practice, this has not been their function: most of the footage came from the public. Neither does it appear that any of the photos on the TPS’s “most wanted” list came from CCTV cameras. Further, none of these photos depict any of the so-called G20 ringleaders—19 well known community organizers, social justice activists and political dissenters who in any case were not apprehended as a result of CCTV evidence but  turned themselves in. Certainly, the “Black Bloc rampage” was not prevented by the presence of CCTV cameras, nor indeed by police themselves, who stood down by the thousands as Black Bloc-ers moved unimpeded throughout the financial and commercial districts.

The public has yet to learn how useful the g20 security cameras have been to the ongoing investigation into the property damage that occurred during the G20. This footage has not been made public, despite Chief Blair’s pledge to release at least some it to the media. At a press conference June 26, Real News Network editor Paul Jay asked for a comment on the targeting of journalists by police. He recounted an incident, just after the arrest of Emomotimi Azorbo, where RNN journalist Jesse Freeston was punched twice by police. Jay asked if police misconduct would be investigated and offered to make video footage of the assault available to Blair. Blair responded:

“We were videotaping it as well. We videotaped all aspects of it. One of the things people missed yesterday was a large cadre of Black Bloc dressed people in the centre of the crowd; as it approached along College St., they began to throw things at my officers. It was necessary for my people to put their helmets on, and it was also necessary for us to go into that crowd and arrest some of the people who were attacking them…All of that was videoed. Right from the balcony outside my office. I’d be more than happy to share that with you and all of the media.”

The incident where police assaulted Freeston, and where Azorbo—a deaf man who could not hear police orders—was arrested took place outside a Winner’s store at the intersection of College and Yonge Streets. There were no Black Bloc actions in sight, according to Freeston’s eyewitness report. While the G20 security cameras positioned outside Chief Blair’s office at police headquarters, midway between Yonge and Bay Streets on College, would not likely have recorded the incident, including Blair’s allegations of Black Block activity, the one positioned at College and Yonge Streets should have some documentary footage.

Blair has not shared that footage or indeed any obtained by police CCTV cameras, including from the temporary detention centre, where there were serious breaches of constitutional rights, according to the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. This is not the first—or second—time TPS Chief Blair has made false statements on record, shattering what little credibility he might have, what with his blanket defense of G20 policing, and his refusal to participate in external investigations (like the one conducted by Ontario’s Ombudsman). However, the TPS was not shy about discussing its various “high tech” approaches to identifying “G20 vandals”, including using facial recognition software owned by a banking lobby group and scouring the internet for “clues” to the identity of “persons of interest.” The use of facial recognition software raised concern among privacy advocates as well as the Canadian Civil Liberties association. The concern, said CCLA general counsel Nathalie Des Rosiers, “is the lack of experience of the judicial system with facial recognition software and the danger of many people being arrested based on a technology that has not been fully explored and tested in our legal system.” The sharing of police surveillance data with a private entity could also raise privacy conflicts.
Given all of this, the TPS should be required to justify their bid to add more security infrastructure to the cityscape—a place where,  historically, people could meet and move about freely. And we, the public, should hold them to account. As famed civil rights lawyer Clayton Ruby put it, CCTV cameras “change the nature of public space and they change the nature of the kind of privacy the Constitution guarantees to every citizen.”
See a map of G20 cameras, prepared by the Toronto Star, here.
See “before” pictures of G20 cameras in the Surveillance Club’s Flickr group.

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