Video evidence CAN save the day.


There was a very interesting story out of Winnipeg last week, which is quite illustrative of the value of high-quality video evidence.

As outlined in this article (http://www.winnipegsun.com/2016/02/12/transit-victim-glad-assault-caught-on-tape) in the Winnipeg Sun, on the morning of February 10, 17-year-old Caley Fawcett, along with her 9-month old son and a 20-year-old male cousin, boarded a Winnipeg Transit bus in order to go to Wal-Mart.

Ms Fawcett was attempting to comfort her crying son when boarding the bus and as a result neglected to obtain a transfer from the driver at that time. When she approached the driver a few minutes later in an attempt to get a transfer after the fact, the driver refused, saying that would be against company policy.

A heated argument ensued, after which Ms Fawcett returned to her seat. According to Ms Fawcett, the bus driver, a 51-year-old woman, then began yelling, “Never in my 25 years as a bus driver have I been verbally assaulted.” (It’s worth noting that there is no such offence as “verbal assault” in the Criminal Code.) Ms Fawcett, who is Filipino, responded by calling the bus driver a racist.

At that point, the bus driver demanded that Ms Fawcett leave the bus. In the process of departing the bus, Ms Fawcett claims that the driver remarked, “I feel f—ing sorry for your son,” and followed up this comment by punching Ms Fawcett in the face after Ms Fawcett questioned the driver about the statement.

The physical aspect of the altercation escalated. At one point, according to Ms Fawcett, after being struck by the bus driver, Ms Fawcett “turned around and punched her in the face and her nose started bleeding.”

The bus driver then called police to report that she had been assaulted by a passenger.

However, Ms Fawcett also gave police her side of the story. Investigators obtained and reviewed surveillance video (apparently complete with audio) from the bus and determined that charges against the driver—and not Ms Fawcett—were warranted (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/winnipeg-transit-assault-arrest-1.3444630).

This case demonstrates the importance of high-quality, clear video evidence.

Video is the great equalizer. In this case, it was most likely the deciding factor that kept Ms Fawcett from facing charges.

Although there have been pilot projects exploring the possible use of body cameras by police, many officers are opposed to the idea, as are some privacy and rights advocacy groups.

While there certainly must be strict controls in place to protect the privacy of individuals recorded on camera through the course of their interactions with police (to ensure, for instance, that videos aren’t simply uploaded to YouTube for public consumption), I am fully in favour of the widespread use of body cameras by police officers.

Video helps to introduce a large degree of objectivity to the criminal justice system, which has traditionally been quite reliant on human witnesses, and, consequently, has been vulnerable to the risks associated with human frailties.

Though these cameras are not precisely cheap, quality video evidence has the potential to allow for quicker and more certain resolution of cases.

As we saw in the James Forcillo case, human interpretations and perceptions can be deficient. It isn’t always a matter of a witness consciously lying—they may be saying what they actually believe happened. And when there are different accounts of the same event, without objective evidence to support one account versus the other, it of course can be quite difficult to determine what actually happened.

Video doesn’t lie. Video doesn’t forget. Video doesn’t make assumptions about people based on race, gender, socio-economic status, etc., and it also doesn’t blindly believe people simply because they happen to be in positions of authority.

 

It’s time to embrace video evidence as a powerful instrument in the pursuit of truth and justice.


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About Brandon Trask

Brandon Trask is a regular blog contributor and former colleague of Daniel Murphy and currently a doctoral student at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Law. He was formerly a Crown Attorney in Newfoundland and Labrador. Brandon holds law degrees from the University of Manitoba and the University of Toronto.