Big Brother is watching you at Remic Rapids Park. The National Capital Commission, which manages Remic Rapids, recently put up a camera as part of its plans to attract more visitors and to discourage some activities that they consider “behaving inappropriately.”
The camera is found at the parking lot, off the bike path at the main entrance. The park is bordered by the Ottawa River to the north, the Ottawa River Parkway Highway to the south and is close to Tunney’s Pasture, a complex of federal government office buildings, including Health Canada.
The camera has a dome hanging underneath. It is similar in appearance to those often used for corporate security that include day and night vision capability and a capability to pan up to 340 degrees with a built-in motion sensor.
But the NCC, a crown corporation under the jurisdiction of the Canadian Heritage Department, refuses to say whether their cameras have those abilities. A staffer referred Capital Xtra to Public Works and Government Service Canada (PWGSC), which they say was responsible for setting up the camera.
“Cameras are used to monitor the parameters of the federal buildings in the vicinity of the park,” says Pierre Manoni, media relations officer at PWGSC. “They do not monitor the activities in the park.” But the camera is at least 100 metres from the nearest government building.
No sign in the park identifies the presence of a camera, in contrast to banks and shopping malls, which usually post their existence.
Traditional activities in Remic Rapids Park include cruising for sex by straights and gays alike. That’s an activity that the NCC frowns upon.
In 1999, NCC conservation officers issued at least 84 tickets for illegal parking. Eight were issued for “behaving in an offensive manner,” according to a former NCC spokesperson.
Since then, NCC has transformed the landscape of Remic Rapids by adding lights, re-paving pathways and pruning bushes to discourage public sex — but at the sacrifice of environmentally important songbird habitat.
“When you speak to the guys who are contracted to cut down the trees, they will tell you flat out, it’s to stop the fags from having sex in the woods,” writes one member on squirt.com. “One afternoon an NCC conservation officer harassed myself and a few friends who met at the park to have coffee and chat. He told us if we wanted to have a good time, go in the woods after 9:30pm, which was kinda rude.”
Today’s Remic looks highly urbanized. Trees are distant from each other. Walking along the bike path, visitors see a picturesque view of the Ottawa River on one side with its fauna and flora and motorists on the other side.
Cameras are said to be sprouting in other NCC parks. A squirt.org member claims a friend who deals with government security contracts was asked by the NCC for a quote on placing cameras in all NCC parks with paved bike trails and access to electricity. “However, I do know that one camera with night vision has been set up at Remic Rapids,” he writes.
Will the images captured by the cameras be used to charge people with what the RCMP calls “behaving in an offensive manner?”
While holding hands is okay, “nude and crude acts” will be considered an offense, says Sgt. Monique Beauchamp of the RCMP, the force responsible for policing federal parks managed by the NCC (city-owned parks are patrolled by the Ottawa Police Service, a force with a better reputation for dealing with park issues among gays).
“An offense is an offense,” says Beauchamp. “The impact matters.”
Fines range from $125 minimum to a possible Criminal Code charge. Parking tickets, for example, can be issued in violation of article 18 of the NCC Act.
There’s been a recent increase in the number of complaints about public sex, says Darryl Lim, co-chair of the Ottawa Police Liaison Committee to the queer community. Lim says a subcommittee will be relaunched Jul 17 to look into it. He expects they’ll focus on “alternative strategies” to police raids and charges. The liaison committee works only with the OPS; neither the RCMP nor the NCC participate.