BANFF – A group of residents continues an unwavering push for the Town of Banff to install security cameras on the existing pedestrian bridge across the Bow River.
The lobbying efforts began after one of six teenage girls walking near the pedestrian bridge connecting Muskrat Street to Glen Avenue on Oct. 31 Halloween night in 2021 was assaulted by a masked man in a Halloween costume. An RCMP investigation has so far not turned up any conclusive leads.
Several letters in support of dedicated crime surveillance cameras have been sent to Banff town council, which will be discussing the issue at its next regular meeting on Monday, June 27.
Mark Marino, a long-time Banff resident who is a relative of one of the girls who was there that night, said installing security cameras at both ends of the pedestrian bridge is a matter of public safety.
“It was a horrible horror what happened on Halloween night, and I don’t want anything like that to happen again, but things can happen and it would be prudent to get cameras there,” he said.
“I can think of six solid reasons why we should have cameras there – and that is those six young girls.”
Marino said low-level level lighting has been set up along the trail, but he doesn’t believe that goes far enough.
“They’re trying their best to light up the trail, but it does nothing for security,” he said.
In a staff report going to council on June 27, Town of Banff essentially laid out the benefits and drawbacks of dedicated surveillance cameras.
Silvio Adamo, the Town’s director of protective services, said the Banff RCMP support the concept of cameras as a measure to address public safety.
"They have had success in solving crimes using the traffic camera system operated by the Town of Banff and many private cameras systems operated by businesses and individuals," he said in his report to council.
"Cameras that are positioned with the intent to monitor specific locations for public safety measures would be expected to capture better images than the traffic camera system, which captures a broad field of view."
That said, the RCMP are not optimistic that cameras would be an effective deterrent to crime.
While there may be some benefit to crime prevention due to signage or public knowledge of the cameras, Adamo said the frequency of crimes committed in the presence of cameras or people who are clearly recording the events suggests that this benefit would be limited.
“The RCMP consider cameras as a tool to solve crime rather than prevent crime,” he said.
Malcolm Carmichael, a long-time resident who lives on the south side of town, said his three daughters, like so many local kids, have summer jobs in the service industry downtown and are often coming home after their shifts, in the dark, over the bridge.
He said lots of young folks are working in Banff for the summer from all over the world.
“I would like to feel that their moms and dads know that we as a community are doing absolutely everything to ensure their children’s safety as we would hope and expect if our kids were visiting and working in theirs,” he said in a letter to council.
“I’ve lived in Banff long enough – 44 years – to vividly remember more than a few incidents, minor to devastatingly tragic, that have happened after dark to young women and men in our town and its surroundings and I also know that there are undeniably an enormous number that have gone unreported.”
The ministry team at St. George-in-the Pines Anglican Church also wrote a letter in support of security cameras at the pedestrian bridge, pointing to concern over the assault of the teenager at Halloween.
The reverends Howard Thornton and Seth Enriquez wrote that the last thing needed is a repeat of an incident like that and feared the safety of residents and visitors are at risk.
“I know there is a lot of debate about the effectiveness of CCTV cameras? Are they a deterrent or not? Are they cost effective or not?” their letter stated.
“But the truth of the matter is if the RCMP had photographic evidence of this crime they might have been able to follow up and apprehend a suspect.”
Based upon RCMP crime statistics and anecdotal opinion evidence from police officers, the vast majority of incidents involving personal safety happen within the 100 and 200 blocks of Banff Avenue during late-night hours or involve people who are known to each other.
If the Town of Banff decides to install public safety cameras, Adamo said the local RCMP considers the establishments that serve liquor during late night hours and service clients leaving licensed establishments to present the greatest need.
“This would include the 100 and 200 blocks of Banff Avenue, Caribou Street abutting Banff Avenue from the west and east and alleys in the 200 block between Banff Avenue and Bear Street and Banff Avenue and Beaver Street,” he said.
“These areas have been subject of complaints of loitering, assaults, etc. that cause employees to feel unsafe while walking home. It is also a frequent flight path for persons who commit offences on Banff Avenue.”
Adamo’s report indicated the use of dedicated surveillance cameras should be assessed carefully.
“There are many potential implications, such as the impact on the right to freedom from intrusion on privacy, the potential to displace crime to other areas, the high costs of some types of video monitoring, and the potential for many cameras to convey the perception the community is not safe,” he said.
The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada offers a long list of guidelines to consider when considering the installation of video surveillance of public places by police and law enforcement authorities.
It recommends cameras only be deployed to address a real, pressing and substantial problem.
Adamo said concrete evidence of the problem to be addressed is also needed.
“This should include real evidence of risks, dangers, crime rates,” he said in his report.
“Specific and verifiable reports of incidents of crime, public safety concerns or other compelling circumstances are needed, not just anecdotal evidence or speculation.”
Calgary and Airdrie have dedicated crime surveillance cameras, while Red Deer is looking to get them.
Many other municipalities have closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras in buildings and facilities, such as in the recreation centre and Elevation Place in Canmore’s case.
“All respondents were consistent in suggesting cameras can be a good tool for investigating versus preventing,” said Adamo.