The state almost had a place in one of the nation’s bedrooms.
“A couple days ago I was heading around the corner to get coffee, and I looked up and thought ‘what’s a camera doing here?'” Chad Barnard said.
He discovered the CCTV camera outside his home near Danforth Avenue and Broadview Avenue, aimed directly at his bedroom window of his home .
Toronto Police Services spokesperson Connie Osborne said that camera was incorrectly installed, never activated, and promptly removed.
But Barnard, who’s lived in the neighbourhood for nine years along with his partner, said he wasn’t notified. When he first saw the camera earlier this week, he quickly recognized a police logo on the module.
“We noticed that first, and then the signage was there, and we were like okay we need to look into this,” he said. “Soon after we found out our local councillor Paula Fletcher wasn’t even aware of its installation.”
The cameras are being installed by the police as part of a province-wide investment of $2 million to expand coverage of CCTV surveillance systems. Toronto police already have 34 cameras installed at various locations across the city, however 40 more are expected.
The incorrectly-installed camera will be placed in the Chester Hill Lookout area, Osborne said.
CCTV cameras being used to combat gun and gang violence
Barnard said his neighbours were initially spooked that the camera pointed into his bedroom, but then expressed support for it to be installed at Chester Hill as a “gangs and guns deterrent” — echoing the Ontario government’s stated intent.
“Robust CCTV surveillance systems are an essential tool to help combat gun and gang violence and keep communities safe,” Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said in a news release.
But Joe Masoodi, senior policy analyst at Ryerson University’s Leadership Lab, says fighting gun and gang violence is a little bit more complicated than just deploying CCTV cameras.
“It depends on the types of crime it’s targeting,” he said. “Different variables have an impact on the effectiveness of CCTV cameras.”
Those include whether or not the cameras are being monitored actively or passively, where the cameras are deployed, and what other types of police intervention strategies are in place, such as increased police presence.
“Studies suggest CCTV cameras may be effective in preventing property crimes or theft,” Masoodi said. “But they also indicate CCTV cameras are not effective against violent crimes.”
Instead, he said, unintended consequences may emerge and crime could be displaced to a more vulnerable area lacking CCTV surveillance or police patrols or that it might heighten “overpolicing” in marginalized or racialized communities.
Surveillance may lead to unintended consequences
Canadian Civil Liberties Association executive director Michael Bryant agrees.
“Some communities are of the view that surveillance makes them feel more safe,” he said. “Other communities, particularly racialized communities, for them police surveillance is bad news.”
Even the “mere presence of the camera” could make a racialized community feel like it’s been accused of wrongdoing, Bryant said.
It’s why he strongly believes there needs to be “meaningful consultation” with the community before cameras are installed.
“There is a notification process with relevant community stakeholders, such as businesses, which the cameras may cover,” said Osborne. “If there are any concerns, people can speak to their local division.”
The law requires deployment of these cameras to be “necessary and proportionate,” Bryant said, and a broad definition stating intentions to fight gun violence does not suffice.
For example, if police are able to do regular in-person surveillance, and if they’re already doing that, Bryant said, then “putting a camera on top of that wouldn’t be necessary and proportionate.”
That’s why he’s so adamant that communities must not only be consulted, but must give consent.
“If a community doesn’t want this going up, that means there’s no consent, so it shouldn’t go up,” he said.
Bryant says consultation with the community can also prevent situations like that of Barnard discovering a camera pointed at his home. Barnard remains concerned about the rules and regulations that govern these CCTV cameras.
“One of my concerns with the whole rollout is the information I dug up strongly suggests rules and regulations for usage of these police cameras is an afterthought,” Barnard said. “The regulations and stuff are apparently not in place yet.”
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