What happened? The value of our neutrality

February 13, 2010 Leave a comment

NB: For the BCCLA’s response to the issue of Saturday’s protests, see the Open Letter to Legal Observers

I was just on the CBC website trying to get news about the protest downtown this morning (Saturday Feb 13). I am so eager for updated information that I even turned my kitchen radio on! On the website there were over twenty screens of comments and I could tell that more were added even as I  was reading. What struck me was that everyone was still only able to express an opinion based, at this point, on preliminary information.

There were many comments on the CBC site suggesting that those who broke the law should be subject to our legal process. I hope that there were Legal Observers there this morning. This is the sort of moment for which we volunteered, and for which we had been trained. As I understand it, our role as recorders is the provision of credible facts. I visualize that these will help both our justice system and “the court of public opinion” in determining what happened, and that subsequent judgements will be based on facts. But it seems to me that our witnessing will only useful if the legal system and the public have confidence that our words and images are an accurate record.

In our training they stressed that we are there to serve as witnesses for both protesters and security. At this moment it is even more clear to me why they stressed our role as neutral parties. In addition to having our documentation show our impartiality, our credibility is also based on being seen as being neutral. And for that to happen, I see how much we need to send that message through behaviour.

Observer tip: Dealing with “No pictures, please!”

February 9, 2010 3 comments

One of the potential issues Legal Observers (or anyone else with a camera) will face when observing is a security guard, VANOC volunteer, police officer, or other Overzealous Olympic Official (OOO) insisting that a particular area or event is out of bounds to photographers. Here’s what to do:

  1. Follow directions, no matter how ridiculous, illegal or crazy they may seem.
  2. Ask for clarification and explanations—who the person is, what authority they have to give these orders, why no photos, and so on.
  3. Keep the camera rolling.
  4. Report incidents to your Observer Team Leader or the Legal Observer hotline.

Unfortunately, we already have a great example from Stephen Hui at the Georgia Straight that shows exactly how this sort of demand to “stop filming” should be handled.

Here’s the video:

Categories: Observing Tags: , , ,

Just visiting: Police from other places

February 8, 2010 1 comment

In addition to the VPD and RCMP officers making themselves visible around Olympic venues and around the city, there are police from every other province adding to the ranks.

We’ve snapped a few photos of the various badges we’ve noticed around town, but we know we haven’t got all of them yet. If you have any you’d like to add to the gallery, let us know! Add it to our Flickr Pool or email it to greg@bccla.org.

February 6, 2010 – Olympic Village

February 6, 2010 2 comments

The Olympic Village was one of the first areas of the city locked down before the Games. We took a wander around the security perimeter today. There is an amazing amount of video surveillance around the Village, and the double layers of fencing are hardened with concrete barricades. There are also lots of ISU personnel around, from RCMP to private security.

Here are some of the photos we took:





February 4, 2010 – Canada Place

February 4, 2010 Leave a comment

We decided to take one of the Legal Observer cameras down to Canada Place this afternoon. Security operations are gearing up, and the police presence is incredibly high. We uploaded a few still images from the videos we shot to our new Flickr account, 2010observers. A few samples are available below:

The Vancouver Statement

January 6, 2010 1 comment

Photo: The Blackbird

The BCCLA has signed on to the Vancouver Statement of Surveillance, Security and Privacy Researchers about the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games:

The BCCLA is endorsing the statement of Canadian and international researchers who study “mega-event” security. Surveillance and privacy experts have called on Canada to “moderate the escalation of security measures for Vancouver 2010” and to be as transparent as possible about security and surveillance practices. The statement also calls for an independent and public audit of Olympic security and surveillance measures post-Games and to have full and open public discussions about proposed “legacies” such as public video surveillance.

The full text of the Vancouver Statement is below:

As researchers from Canada and the wider world, who are conducting research on the global security dynamics of mega-events, we agree:

  • that the Olympic Games should be a celebration of human achievement, friendship and trust between people and nations.

However, having analyzed past and planned Olympics and other mega events, from a variety of historical and international perspectives, we recognize:

  • that recent Games have increasingly taken place in and contributed to a climate of fear, heightened security and surveillance; and
  • that this has often been to the detriment of democracy, transparency and human rights, with serious implications for international, national and local norms and laws.

Therefore, we ask the City of Vancouver, the Province of British Columbia and the Government of Canada:

  • to moderate the escalation of security measures for Vancouver 2010 and to strive to respect the true spirit of the event;
  • to be as open as possible about the necessary security and surveillance practices and rationales to withdraw temporary bylaws that restrict Charter rights of freedom of speech and assembly;
  • to work constructively with the Provincial and Federal Privacy Commissioners;
  • to respect the rights of all individuals and groups, whether they be local people or visitors, and pay particular attention to the impacts on vulnerable people;
  • to conduct a full, independent public assessment of the security and surveillance measures, once the Games are over, addressing their costs (financial and otherwise), their effectiveness, and lessons to be learned for future mega-events;
  • not to assume a permanent legacy of increased video surveillance and hardened security measures in the Vancouver/Whistler area, and to have full and open public discussion on any such proposed legacy.

We hope that these recommendations will contribute to a unique and positive Olympic legacy by which Vancouver, British Columbia and Canada will be remembered for setting the highest ethical standards.

November 23, 2009

Legal Observer camera guide

November 19, 2009 1 comment

The Legal Observer Program will be loaning as many cameras as possible to observers. However, we’ll have limited supplies. Volunteers are encouraged to bring and use their own camera, or to donate any spare cameras they have lying around.

Photo: Naixn

Some people have told us they’re planning to buy a new camera just for the program. This is not at all a requirement, but if you’re thinking about it we’d like to offer some suggestions to help sort through the confusing features and technical specifications of the many cameras on the market today.

The Legal Observer program isn’t in the business of selling cameras, so we don’t want to tell you what you have to buy. If you bring us digital video or photos in any format or on any camera, we’ll be glad to take them! The important part is the content of the video or photo, not what camera you used to get it. That said, if you have a camera you want to use, or if you’re looking to buy one to use for the program, we’re more than willing to help you make a choice.

CNet has excellent guides to the complicated specs and features available on today’s digital cameras and camcorders. This will help you sort through the tech jargon and pick a camera that works for you. For the purposes of legal observing, the “budget” specs will do quite nicely, but these guides have something for everyone, from snapshots to professional photographers or filmmakers.

CNet digital camcorder buying guide

CNet digital camera buying guide

Budget camcorder recommendation: Flip.

The Flip Mino HD

If you’re still not sure, we’ll make one specific recommendation. If you’re looking for a cheap, easy to use camera for use in the Legal Observer program, the Flip would be a great choice. If you’re looking to shoot a documentary this isn’t your choice, but  they are reliable, capture up to 2 hours of video, and will fit easily in your pocket.

Categories: Observing