ByWard Market business owners keen on Mayor Watson’s CCTV proposal

ByWard
Ottawa's ByWard Market may seen closed-circuit surveillance cameras installed in a pilot project aimed at promoting the safety and security of the popular downtown hub.

Mandy Gosewich doesn’t see any need for a pilot project to test the concept of surveillance cameras in the ByWard Market. 

“Just implement it now,” said the owner of STUNNING! Fashion Accessories and Then Some, a fashion boutique near the corner of York Street and Sussex Drive. “Plain and simple as that.”

Gosewich is one of a number of business owners who voiced support to OBJ Tuesday for a proposal to install closed-circuit cameras in high-traffic areas around the ByWard Market in the wake of a series of deadly shootings in the popular tourist district.

“It doesn’t help the ByWard Market when there are shootings in the middle of the night,” said Gosewich, who has operated her clothing shop since 2013. “What happens is, people who want to come down, they’re afraid. But they shouldn’t be.”

Gosewich
Mandy Gosewich, owner, STUNNING! Fashion Accessories and Then Some. Photo provided

The call for more security cameras in the Market has grown louder in recent days after a spate of violent incidents in the high-traffic entertainment district. Two men have been shot to death in the area in the last month, with the most recent slaying in the early morning of July 1. A stabbing also occurred in the neighbourhood last Thursday morning.

On Monday, Mayor Jim Watson released a memo calling on city manager Steve Kanellakos to look at implementing a three-year pilot of a “targeted public surveillance” closed-circuit TV system. 

The study would determine costs of putting cameras in “targeted areas of criminal activity and high pedestrian visibility,” the memo says, with the goal of boosting efforts to revitalize the Market and other areas of the downtown core.

Pat Nicastro, the owner of La Bottega Nicastro grocery store and eatery on George Street, said the cameras would be money well spent.

“I actually think it will deter some of the people that we don’t really want down here,” he said. “We love the idea, and we think it could only help the area.”

Chateau Lafayette manager Francois Labelle agreed.

“I don’t think it’s a bad thing, especially in an area like this where it is very tourist-concentrated,” he said. “We want to make sure that people are safe, and obviously there isn’t enough police to go around. It just provides an extra layer of security. I think if nothing else, it’ll make people think twice about doing something that they shouldn’t be doing.”

Lafayette
Chateau Lafayette manager Francois Labelle. Photo provided

The ByWard Market BIA’s safety and security committee endorsed the pilot project at its latest meeting on Tuesday afternoon, said executive director Jasna Jennings. 

She said that while the effectiveness of surveillance cameras as a deterrent to crime is still up for debate, the equipment would be “another tool for police to use with investigations.” Jennings said city staff still aren’t sure if the cameras would be monitored on a real-time basis or simply used to gather evidence after an incident occurred.

“We think the biggest preventative tool is still active police presence,” she said, adding she thinks the issue of gun violence in the Market has been blown out of proportion because of the area’s high profile.

“The reality is, this is not a Market problem, this is a city-wide problem. This is a much bigger issue than the Market.”

Privacy concerns trumped by safety, owners say

Besides their debatable usefulness as a deterrent, critics say, closed-circuit cameras also raise privacy concerns. 

But Gosewich dismisses any worries about Big Brother watching our every move, saying in this case, safety trumps privacy.

“We want to make sure that you are safe and that you feel safe,” she said. “There’s a big difference from feeling like there’s a privacy issue happening here.”

Labelle said he sees both sides of the issue.

“It’s certainly a concern, but we all carry little microphones in our pockets these days too,” he said. “I do agree that we shouldn’t have to be watched all the time, but if it does make people feel more secure or stop the people that are doing stupid things from doing them, then I am for that.

“It’s a Catch-22, right? You sacrifice freedom for more security and it depends what you want.”

Nicastro said he thinks privacy concerns with the cameras are a non-issue.

“If you’re not doing anything wrong, then you have no reason to worry about it,” he said. “If you have nothing to worry about, you’ll still come down here whether there’s cameras or not.”

Watson wants a report on the potential costs and locations of the cameras presented to the finance and economic development committee in time for the upcoming budget deliberations.