The video footage RCMP officers shot during the peaceful Lot 1/9 protest on March 16 will not be used to identify protestors, according to Sgt. Steve Wright.
“Video cameras are used to capture images of people breaking the law, only,” explained Wright.
“Video is solely used in case the law is being broken and evidence can be obtained to support any possible charges that may have resulted from that.”
The footage has been a source of concern in the community since it was shot last month, raising questions of why officers felt it was necessary to be armed with video cameras that day.
Wright assured that the RCMP supports protests and simply used the cameras in case things got out of hand.
“I know there was some concern raised that we were video taping people in the crowd to identify protestors, but protesting is a right,” he said.
“It is part of our democracy in this country, and we (the RCMP) fully support that.”
Wright added that all four minutes of videotape taken that day have already been destroyed and no copies were made.
Officers have used video in the past to monitor New Year’s Eve celebrations, although the March protest marked one of the first times the public took note of the cameras.
Meanwhile, a video on YouTube — which includes a clip of an officer holding up a silver camcorder during the March 16 protest — drew further attention to the issue. The video has been viewed over 100 times since it was posted four weeks ago, on the evening of the protest.
Nick Hickling, 19, who shot and edited the two minute, 48 second video, said the public was troubled by the sight of an officer with a video camera because it sends the message that people cannot be trusted to hold a peaceful protest.
“It was out of place, and it was not understood why they felt the need to videotape what we were doing,” he said.
Hickling, who is headed for film school in the fall, added that his YouTube video has been well received, and many viewers are surprised to see the clip of the officer.
Hickling’s uncle, protest organizer Stephen Vogler, said the YouTube video also demonstrates the astuteness of the younger generation when it comes to chronicling events.
“I thought it was great how they were filming us, and he was filming them,” said Vogler.
He added, however, that he is not comfortable knowing the RCMP may have footage of him speaking at the protest.
“I don’t think there was a need for that, but I think it is a taste of things to come here,” said Vogler.
“The Olympics are going to bring a huge amount of security,” he said, citing big security budgets of past Olympics in Athens and Salt Lake City.
He added that civil rights groups are concerned that high security will not go away after the Olympics.
“If you are exploring this topic, this is all the things that this (security issue) brings up,” he said.
“And it (the Lot 1/9 protest) was just a minor, local event, but I think it is a bit of a harbinger of what is to come.”
Previously, Whistler RCMP Sgt. Steve Leclair told Pique that public spaces may be monitored by video cameras during the Olympics but the cameras will come down after the Games end.
Not all are alarmed by the RCMP videotaping the Lot 1/9 protest.
Local musician Kostaman, who played an active part in the Lot 1/9 protest, said officers should be allowed to use video cameras.
“I think that if we can take footage, then they should be able to take footage,” said Kostaman.
“It’s a free society.”
He added that he was not aware police where videotaping the event but instead saw several people videotaping the RCMP officers.
The protest was organized by Whistler Watch as a “tribute” to the trees on Lot 1/9, located in the village across from the Whistler Medical Clinic. Construction of a Celebration Plaza on the site is scheduled to begin this month. The plaza will be used for the medal ceremonies during the Olympics and will become a community gathering space following the Games.