The City of Burnaby has installed security cameras, hired new RCMP officers and increased bike patrols in a popular park after a 13-year-old girl was killed there last year.
At his campaign office on Tuesday, Mayor Derek Corrigan announced the city has hired 14 new Mounties and will spend nearly $1 million for security cameras, enhanced signage, a heightened police and bylaw presence and “call boxes” in Central Park.
The cameras are now live and call boxes will be going in shortly.
“You will remember the very tragic death of Marrisa Shen at Central Park,” said Corrigan. “It was an incident that stayed in our minds throughout the investigation and we wanted to do as much as we could to ensure it couldn’t happen again.”
The girl was killed and her body left in the southeastern portion of the park during the early hours of July 18, 2017.
It took more than a year before police made an arrest.
Ibrahim Ali, 28, is awaiting trial for first-degree murder. He was not known to police and had arrived in Canada as a refugee from Syria just four months before Marrisa was killed.
Corrigan acknowledged that while there was no way to prevent something like this, the city wanted to make sure it did everything possible to help police investigate crimes.
Even so, he warned people to not go into the park alone after dark: “We cannot protect people at night in our parks.”
If the security cameras and call boxes are successful, he said similar safety measures could be coming to other parks.
Burnaby: A city of cameras?
Asked about privacy concerns, Corrigan said the cameras would be used to investigate incidents after the fact, not to constantly watch citizens.
“It’s not going to be utilized in a way where we have staff sitting and monitoring those cameras all day in order to follow up on if anyone’s committed a bylaw offence.”
But a lawyer with the BC Civil Liberties Association is worried that the cameras won’t help.
“The people who are motivated to do these crimes just learn where the cameras are and how to do what they shouldn’t do without being tracked,” said staff counsel Megan McDermott.
“There’s just not enough evidence that this would do anything in this particular case.”
McDermott welcomed the extra officers, more police patrols and call boxes, but said she would prefer they be rolled out without the cameras, calling their installation in Central Park a “slow creep” to constant surveillance.
“Where does it stop? What if there was a murder in a few months a few blocks away? Before long, you could end up with all public spaces in Burnaby being covered by these cameras.”
Without knowing who has access to the footage, she added, it’s impossible to know if it will be misused.
“There have been problems with employees not following policies about respecting that privacy and going in to breach people’s privacy,” she said.
The City of Burnaby could not provide details by deadline about who would have access to this footage or whether it would be destroyed after a certain time.
A spokesperson did say any use of the cameras would be subject to provincial privacy regulations.