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By VPSN

January 22, 2008 at 7:13 AM

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Gangland hits, Granville Hooligans and Cameras – a response to The Province and the politicians it was quoting�

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Last Saturday night, Ricardo Scarpino and an associate were gunned down outside Gotham Steakhouse on a busy Seymour Street. Scarpino was, as the saying goes, “known to police.” He had just arrived at the restaurant and was en route to his engagement party.

Described in the media as a “gangster,” Scarpino and his colleague were the victims of a brazen and cold-blooded act – an execution – that was quickly tagged by the Globe & Mail as a “gangland hit.” Of course, at this time we can only really surmise on that latter point. The only certainly is that Scarpino and his friend are dead.

The killing of the two men is yet another senseless enough example of gun violence. Thankfully as police are quick to point out, this a rare occurrence in a city that is still quite safe by world standards. Let’s hope the VPD can get to the bottom of this quickly.

Let’s also hope that we don’t go the route suggested by one of the CanWest tabloids, and the politicians it was quoting.

Not two days after the killing, in the midst of an investigation in which police are actively talking to dozens of witnesses and combing though a plethora of evidence taken from the area, the Province ran a front cover story entitled: “Cameras sought to fight gangs.” This is a really bad idea.

It’s bad, first of all, on reasons of efficacy. Surveillance cameras, by and large, have been shown to have no real statistical impact on the prevention of crime. They also, despite claims to the contrary, have not been shown to aid in the solving in a greater number of crimes. So on two counts, their purported societal benefit has to be taken with a grain of salt.

Cameras do, however, come at considerable expense, and they also come with a loss of civil liberties. The VPSN has always argued that people should be able to enjoy public space without having to be “under the gun” of closed circuit television. It isn’t enough, as is often claimed, that “people who aren’t doing anything wrong have nothing to fear about cameras.” That line simply doesn’t wash: the contrastive vitality of the public realm exists exactly because people can have their privacy while surrounded by hundreds of their peers.

Let’s not let the Scarpino case take that away from us. The call for cameras always seems to come amidst emotionally charged stories… and is presented by media, or police, or regulators, as a solution to dealing with a specific population or problem. This time it’s gangsters, last year it was Granville hooligans… and three years prior it was (wait for it) residents of the Downtown Eastside.

Of course, to date, only the latter group has actually lobbied to point out that, despite the rhetoric, the cameras will really be pointed at everybody, all the time.

It’s true. In the case of the present example, the CCTV technology won’t start rolling when some hidden “gangster radar” goes off. In fact, whoever would be sitting behind the banks of cameras watching the city streets would probably be glued to the activities of everyday citizens a whole lot more than they ever wood the likes of Scarpino, or his killers.

So let’s be vigilant on this issue… and ensure that this unfortunate killing is not used as an excuse to take a shot at our collective civil liberties.

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