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Mayor John Tory backs body cameras for TTC officers
June 23, 2020
Ben Spurr

Mayor John Tory says he wants to explore the idea of equipping TTC officers with body-worn cameras in order to help fight discrimination on the transit system.

During a discussion about the transit agency’s anti-racism strategy at a meeting of the mayor’s executive committee on Monday, Tory said outfitting the TTC’s roughly 200 fare inspectors and special constables with cameras could be an important “accountability and protection measure.”

Tory said that as a result of systemic racism, Black Torontonians experience a “degree of fear and anxiety” when doing everyday activities like riding transit, and recent anti-racism protests show “how much hurt and anguish and built up frustration there is” over the issue. He said he hoped the TTC would act quickly to move ahead with its anti-racism strategy and “take some steps, which could include body-worn cameras.”

He said it would likely be more cost-effective if the TTC were included in the Toronto Police Service’s plan to equip its officers with body cameras rather than the transit agency procuring its own.

The mayor’s comments came after a member of his executive, Councillor Michael Thompson (Ward 21, Scarborough Centre), raised the idea of having transit officers wear the devices.

Proponents say cameras help prevent officer misconduct while protecting law enforcement from spurious allegations, but some experts say the devices are a drain on municipal budgets and haven’t been proven effective.

In an interview, Thompson said that while body cameras aren’t “foolproof,” they could help hold transit officers accountable by ensuring “they’re aware and the public are aware that their actions are being monitored.”

Surveillance cameras are already in place across Toronto’s transit system but they don’t record audio, which Thompson said means they could miss important aspects of officers’ interactions with riders.

Although it’s not clear how much the cameras would cost the TTC, Thompson said the expense would be worth it, even as the transit agency faces a crippling financial crisis caused by historic ridership drops during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When young people, particularly racialized, young Black kids, are being affected and (even assaulted)” as a result of racial bias on the transit system, “I actually think that safety is a huge priority” that justifies spending on cameras, said Thompson, who is the only Black representative on Toronto’s 26-member council.

The TTC launched its anti-racism strategy last July after the city ombudsman found serious flaws in an internal investigation into three fare inspectors who violently accosted a Black teen at a streetcar stop in February 2018. The strategy also followed a series of Star investigations into TTC data that raised concerns transit officers have ticketed and recorded personal information of Black riders in disproportionately high numbers.

The strategy includes plans to reform the agency’s public complaints protocol, conduct system-wide anti-racism training, and diversify the TTC workforce.

TTC spokesperson Stuart Green said equipping transit officers with body-worn cameras “is something that is very much a topic of conversation at the TTC” and the agency is examining the legal and financial impacts of introducing the technology. “In general, the TTC supports additional accountability and transparency in our operations,” he said.

The Toronto police force has long intended to equip its officers with body cameras, but has yet to do so. Last month, following outcry over the death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, Chief Mark Saunders announced the force was fast-tracking the program.

According to a budget estimate submitted to the Toronto police board at the end of 2019, Toronto police project the devices would cost $4.8 million to procure, plus $2.5 million annually for cloud-based storage.

Police spokesperson Meghan Gray said while Saunders supports body-worn cameras for all front-line police officers “to enhance transparency and protection for both the public and our officers,” any expansion of the program would have to be evaluated by the police force and its board.