The province’s privacy commissioner has told the City of Terrace it does not have the legal authority to install video surveillance cameras in the downtown area.
According to the Office of Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC), the City’s privacy assessment on the $46,000 proposed project, aimed at deterring crime, did not justify the need for collection of public information in George Little Park and Brolly Square, two high-crime areas in Terrace.
The commissioner also warned of a possible investigation if the City decided to go ahead with the project without legal authority, which OIPC is authorized to do under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIPPA).
“The OIPC is pushing hard to have all video surveillance projects by local governments submit a privacy impact assessment,” said Alisa Thompson, Terrace corporate administrator.
Thompson said the analyst spoke about a related situation involving the City of Vancouver, who after speaking with the OIPC decided against pursuing video surveillance on Granville Street. The analyst also stated that there was not enough sufficient evidence to suggest CCTV cameras would help in deterring or stopping crime from happening.
“The OIPC has demonstrated that they are very concerned about the use of video surveillance,” she said.
If the City wanted to move forward with the initiative, they would have to get a legal opinion and submit more information to the commissioner to justify the public collection of information. However, the analyst did suggest the City look at “less-invasive” measures of addressing the concerns in the downtown area, such as an increased police presence.
Coun. James Cordeiro said he was not in favour of abandoning video surveillance outright, and that having a constant police presence in the downtown would be difficult to realistically implement. Coun. Brian Downie suggested strengthening and resubmitting their application, but would not support going “blindly ahead” by disregarding the OIPC’s response.
Finding alternatives to surveillance cameras was supported by Coun. Michael Prevost, and Coun. Stacey Tyers, who has voiced her opposition to installing CCTV cameras since it was first introduced by Coun. Sean Bujtas last fall.
“We have so many other options that we haven’t looked at,” Tyers said, who believes CCTV cameras should be used as a last resort. “The safety audit, lighting dark areas, reducing trees, reducing barriers… getting a legal opinion doesn’t change the fact that we as a community have done none of that.”
“[Video surveillance] came out of nowhere and we’re treating it like a wonder that will fix everything, and that’s just not the case.”
Coun. Downie brought up previous incidences of vandalism in the downtown area and said the public’s concerns about safety are legitimate. “Cameras or not, let’s try and find a solution to the bigger picture,” he said.
Because Coun. Lynn Christensen and Coun. Bujtas were absent on Monday, Coun. Cordeiro motioned to table a decision until all members were present.
This story has been amended from the original print version to clarify Coun. James Cordeiro’s position on increased police presence in the downtown area.