More CCTVs; be careful what you wish for

In the wake of an unprecedented spate of gangland style shootings in Toronto, the Ontario government gave the City of Toronto $3M to install more closed circuit TV cameras (CCTV) mostly in neighbourhoods that have borne the brunt of the shootings. The move will add another 40 cameras to the already existing 34 cameras in many communities.

The idea is to marry this tool to an 11-week program called “Project Community Space” that protect but also could intrude on privacy and democratic freedoms if the cameras are misused by the police. Those that are concerned about civil liberties are not sold on this latest move (as we are) by our two levels of government. Our basic response is: “Be careful what you wish for?” After all, the police already use facial recognition technology, which, together with CCTV cameras will raise surveillance to an unprecedented level.

The police have assured us that CCTV will be used as an anti-crime measure and for evidence after the crime has occurred. According to a police spokesperson Allison Sparkes: “We access the CCTV footage only when there is an investigative need, and that our access is controlled…police are not monitoring or pulling this video unless there is an investigative need on a specific case or incident.”

But where did we hear this before? Recall as far back as June 2009 when the Canadian government brought two bills to the House of Commons, Bill C-46 and C-47, entitled the 21st Century Act and the Technical Assistance for Law Act respectively. The first bill, dubbed the “electronic snooping bill” allows police to obtain personal information about internet users without a warrant. The second bill C-47 allowed police to track people on the move by tapping into their cell phones or obtaining routing information on people suspected of committing a crime. The legislation allows police to get information that would normally require a search warrant. At the time we were given the assurance that the police and security agencies would only use the information in specific ways much the same as the Toronto police say they would use their surveillance technology.

Call it a distraction or simply a misguided trust in our governing institutions, but many people hold the view that the only people who should worry about electronic snooping are those who have something to hide.


While we are certain that such views are honestly held, events that soon followed the introduction of those bills did not and still does not give us any confidence that the police will not misuse their added powers of surveillance and, when questioned if they will tell the truth.


Back in 2009 the RCMP weaved a web of lies in front of the Braidwood Commission of Inquiry into the tasering death of Robert Dziekanski at the hands of the RCMP. Dziekanski was a new immigrant to Canada who showed signs of agitation towards airport staff. The police tasered him five times. He died of a heart attack from the shocks he received. It was found that the RCMP’s actions were unjustified and they lied to protect their guilt.


This is the force that was also complicit in the “rendering” to Syria and torture of Maher Arar, while sharing the honours with CSIS of supplying bogus information that have had a number of innocent Canadians jailed in countries known for human rights violations. Around that time, there were no less than three judgments brought against the Canadian government, the RCMP and CSIS for using false or unsubstantiated evidence (some gathered electronically) to assist in the jailing and torture of several citizens.


Even if our government and security institutions had an unblemished record in the areas of surveillance and the use of confidential information, civil liberties like the right to privacy should be left to the police to protect them. They must prove that they are worthy of our trust, and so far there is nothing in their recent performance to warrant that trust.


Police Chief Mark says he will put more police on the ground in affected communities. The intent is to both catch the perpetrators and give the members of these communities some protection and a sense of security. Most people would say: “Who can argue with that?” After all, they say that we need to stop the rot before things get completely out of control – a perfectly human and reasonable response at a time when fear of walking the streets is a real issue for some people.

However, for those who seek to balance the need for security with increased surveillance that can protect life and limb while at the same time not be used intrusively or as a short cut to real on the ground, investigative, old style policing, Police Chief Mark Saunders, Toronto Mayor John Tory, and Premier Doug Ford need to show that proper protections against abuse are put in place; and those protections must be open to public scrutiny.

So, while we go about our daily business we must not allow our government a free hand to mind our business. After all we resent neighbours and family who do, why should we assume that persons who are trained to be suspicious would be any better?