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CAMS Ottawa's open letter to Mayor Watson and City Councillors

Dear Mayor Watson,

We are writing this letter in response to your proposal for a feasibility study for a pilot project to install a targeted public surveillance Closed-Circuit Television (CCTV) system in the ByWard Market.

Within the proposal, you outline several goals and objectives that you feel might be fulfilled through the installation of CCTV cameras, including contributing to a safer environment in the downtown core and deterring crime. While we share concerns about ongoing violence in the Market, and in other downtown neighbourhoods, we do not think that installing surveillance cameras is an appropriate solution.

As the studies cited in the FAQ below indicate, the very premise that video surveillance and CCTV can deter violent crime is highly doubtful. Acts of violence are generally impulsive and committed in the heat of the moment. The evidence gathered from numerous jurisdictions clearly indicates that CCTV video surveillance does not reduce incidences of violence, including homicides. Additionally, as is discussed below, video surveillance and CCTV raise significant privacy concerns with respect to capturing footage of vast numbers of law-abiding individuals going about their day-to-day activities. Stringent and potentially costly processes and safeguards must be in place to protect their personal information (i.e. footage) from misuse and unauthorized access and disclosure, and to ensure that footage is either properly retained where necessary, or deleted within a reasonable time when it is not needed, in compliance with Ontario’s privacy legislation.

Video surveillance and CCTV also raise significant and pressing concerns regarding the treatment of marginalized members of our community. Studies of police actions - such as CCTV surveillance, street checks, and roadside stops - have shown time and again that these interventions overwhelmingly target Black and other racialized communities, including First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples. Young people and people experiencing homelessness are also heavily overrepresented in these statistics. Those living with mental illness are similarly targeted and stigmatized. While the visibility of these groups is, sadly, upsetting to some, our job is not to “sanitize” public space through a racist and colonial lens. All people have an equal right to use public space: public space is, by definition, for everyone.

CCTV may seem like a quick, public-pleasing solution to a longstanding problem, yet it is only one suggestion among many. To determine what solution(s) would be appropriate for the ByWard Market and other neighbourhoods across the city, such as Overbrook and Vanier, most sensible people would turn to the evidence accumulated over years of study and evaluation to look at what could be done to deter violence and restore communities. The evidence is discussed in further detail in the FAQ, at

There are, quite simply, too many problems with CCTV surveillance for it to be a feasible measure to take in response to the violence taking place in Ottawa. We urge you to take the above problems and the following evidence into consideration and reconsider implementing such an ineffective, costly, and intrusive system.

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