On February 28th 2014,Kennebecasis Police responded to a domestic dispute call in Rothesay, New Brunswick. They arrived at the house of a 26 year old man experiencing a mental health emergency. Police tried to reason with him but were unable to do so. When the man began to harm himself, the responding officers attempted to use an energy weapon (taser) to subdue him. This was ineffective, and only agitated the man, who was known to police further. Wielding a knife in each hand, he lunged at one of the officers. The other officer, believing his partner’s and his own safety was at risk, drew his firearm and discharged two rounds into the assailant. The man later died of his injuries in a Saint John hospital. The police officer who fired the shots was wearing a body camera, and thus had the whole altercation on tape.
The Kennebecasis Police requested RCMP to investigate the shooting. The RCMP came to the conclusion that given the circumstances, reasonable force was used in the altercation. The officer responsible for the shooting was cleared of all wrongdoing. However, the police refused to release the body cam tape that had recorded the incident.
The issue of whether law enforcement officials should be mandated to make footage public is a difficult one. On the one hand, it is important that the privacy of police officers and others caught on film be respected. On the other hand, public access to the information can be very important. The past few years has arguable seen a drop in public confidence in policing in this country. Police misconduct, as viewed by many, is not just an American issue Canadians see while watching the evening news. By mandating this information be publicly available, it may help people understand what struggles police officers encounter on a daily basis. Perhaps it will even help build empathy towards police officers who often work in extremely difficult and stressful environments. It also has great potential to act as a check against egregious police conduct. In this case, police argued against release, stating privacy concerns were too important. The question is should privacy issues outweigh public interest in viewing the tapes?
In Canada, it is not mandatory all police wear a body cam. If they know that all footage collected will be accessible to the general public, it may provide incentive to some that they should not wear the cam at all. However, if police are given complete discretion to release footage, the public may ultimately see very little of it. Unfortunately, blanket rules like these are ineffective. Individual situations will have to be evaluated on their own unique facts.