Just the facts, ma'am...


(Carmen Gottfried, right, speaks while his son, Ken, listens.)

One of many telling moments in Monday's meeting of concerned citizens hoping to put video surveillance back on the city council agenda happened seconds after Mayor David Henderson walked out the door.

That's the biggest opponent, right there,” Carmen Gottfried, who had led the discussion up to that point, told the other 15 people assembled after the mayor headed out to a scheduled meeting of the refugee assistance committee.

He may have been right. Henderson clearly indicated his stance on video surveillance – that it infringes on privacy rights and costs too much for the crime-fighting benefits it may provide – has not changed since he led the last take-down of the idea in 2009.

But Ahmad Khadra, one of the business owners participating in the meeting, was also right when he advised Gottfried to shift the debate away from the personal and focus instead on the issues.

To be sure, Gottfried has a greater claim to be angry than many.

In May 2008, his son, Ken, was left with severe injuries, the effects of which remain today, from an assault suffered in the heart of the downtown core.

When the matter went to trial, the defence seemed bent on arguing that the younger Gottfried had asked for it: In other words, that Gottfried and his assailant were both willing combatants, and the injuries were an unfortunate result.

It took video surveillance – a private camera that captured the incident from inside the Pizza Pizza outlet – to shatter that narrative and get the attacker to change his plea to guilty.

One can sympathize with the elder Gottfried's passion, but for supporters of video surveillance it could prove counterproductive – especially if it comes across as the continuation of an old fight.

If swaying council is the group's objective, framing it as a battle between an aggrieved father and an intransigent mayor is not the way to go.

In fact, Henderson was the one who offered the best path for his opponents.

If you think that it's worth pursuing, get the information, cost it out,” he told the group.

The council discussion, added the mayor, will hinge on the cost-benefit analysis and on civil liberties implications.

And that led to another telling moment: Right there, Gottfried got his back up and pointedly told the mayor he does not get to decide what the discussion will be about.

Indeed he won't. Rather, he and eight other members of city council will get to decide on the salient points of the discussion. And before that, Henderson will be joined by fellow members of the police services board in deciding what the priority topics will be.

But far from trying to frame the discussion in advance, Henderson was only trying to provide helpful advice here.

It's advice Gottfried will have done well to internalize once the heat of the discussion gave way to sober reflection.

Will council and the police board discuss the right of Gottfried and people in his position to feel aggrieved? No, because that's a given.

Will they discuss the policing merits of video surveillance? Maybe for about five minutes, after which they will probably all conclude that, while the cameras do little to deter people who are bent on causing trouble, they can often do a lot to make sure such people are arrested and convicted.

The bulk of the discussion will focus on the areas that have the highest priority on a city council member's job description: Does this action comply with federal and provincial law, and is it a responsible expense of taxpayer dollars?

If they want the old fight over video surveillance to lead to a new outcome, supporters of the measure will indeed have to come to the table with arguments on both these questions.