Citizens armed with video cameras become watchdogs of police accountability

Posted: September 4, 2007 in Headlines, Quebec

A video clip on website YouTube.com may have forced Quebec’s provincial police to admit undercover officers were involved in a protest this week, and in an age of proliferating cellphones with video capability, ordinary citizens are poised to become watchdogs of police accountability, experts say.

A clip appeared on the website showing a union leader confronting three apparent protesters at the North American Leaders’ Summit in Montebello, Que., accusing them of being police officers attempting to incite violence at an otherwise peaceful demonstration.

After days of denials, the force admitted Thursday the trio were, in fact, police officers, but not the “provocateurs” protesters made them out to be. Protesters and the union leader seen in the video, Dave Coles, note the video clearly shows a fist-sized rock in the hand of at least one undercover officer.

In the past, such a debate likely would not have progressed beyond the he-said-she-said sphere, but video evidence posted on the World Wide Web for all to see left the Surete du Quebec with few options.

“It obviously raises the level of accountability and weakens what, in Ottawa circles, is called plausible deniability, which is a good thing,” said Errol Mendes, a professor of constitutional and international law at the University of Ottawa.

“I think plausible deniability is one of the great evils of modern free and democratic societies.”

“It’s good, in terms of accountability in these situations where in the past all you’ve had is what people say happened and a lot of doubt amongst the public for the reason that protesters have an agenda,” said Duff Conacher, co-ordinator of Democracy Watch.

Read the full story here

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