Thursday, November 08, 2007


Gaetan Heroux of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) told a news conference yesterday in Toronto the city's police surveillance cameras are, "A total waste of money." He and a number of community residents protested the cameras yesterday.

Indicating one such camera, Heroux said, "This camera will capture images of hundreds of poor people going into the church looking for warmth, looking for food. These cameras will not feed us. They won't keep us warm and they won't give us housing."

Heroux said $2 million given to the city by the province to erect cameras should be allocated elsewhere.

"There are serious issues here and there's a pretence that police and cameras can deal with them," he said.

A statement on the OCAP website read:

"The Toronto Police are installing several cameras in the area of Dundas and Sherbourne to monitor any "criminal activity" or "anti-social behaviour" that takes place. In the heart of one of Canada's poorest neighbourhoods and surrounded by drop-in centres and shelters that are seeing their budgets transfered to the police, it is hard to see how these cameras will put food on the table or roofs over the heads of those in the community. Instead the cameras will record people going hungry and struggling to survive."

Zoe Dodd of Street Health Community Nursing Foundations said, "Basic survival needs are not being met."

"You have lots of money, Toronto," said homeless man Steve Boss. "This is no help for poor and homeless people."

Expressing a different point of view was Anastasia Kuzyk, of the Sex Workers' Alliance of Toronto, who said the cameras could be a good thing for prostitutes.

"If I was a street prostitute ... you better believe I'd work as close as I could to the camera to make sure the license plate of the car I'm getting into, in case I don't come back, is recorded," Kuzyk said.

Toronto police, who have been experimenting with surveillance cameras in certain high-crime areas around the city, say that cameras are useful in investigations and that footage has helped lead to arrests in killings, sexual assaults, armed robberies and even the rescue of abducted children.

In addition to the police surveillance cameras, the Toronto Transit Commission, which provides 1.4 million rides each weekday, is in the process of installing up to 10,000 security cameras in its buses, streetcars and subway system, adding to its current network of about 1,500 cameras.

That prompted London-based Privacy International to lodge a complaint Wednesday with Ontario Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian, denouncing the project as an "unnecessary" waste of resources that violates Canadian privacy laws.

The $21-million project, which was approved by the TTC last spring and received $6.5 million from the federal government under its $80-million Transit Secure program, will be able to snap photos of thousands of daily commuters as well as record audio and video. The system is expected to be fully operational by the summer of 2009, Cavoukian said.

"Anything that happens in Ontario ... and in Toronto in particular, will be closely examined in other jurisdictions in Canada," Ariane Siegel, a privacy expert and partner at Gowlings law firm in Toronto told the Canadian Press.

According to the Canadian Press, studies of similar transit camera projects in Europe that suggest the cameras don't have much of an effect in deterring criminal activity - in one case in Berlin, crime actually increased - and have even led to abuses.

The following is from Torontoist. Note: the editor of the Torontoist has requested that I post a link to the article below, so if you'd like to read it again at the original site please click here

Feed Me / See More

Poor OCAP. They can't even complain about the police watching them without the police watching them. At noon Wednesday, the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty held a press conference (not a rally or an action or a march but a press conference) at the northeast corner of Dundas and Sherbourne, and there was about one police officer for each person in attendance (around twenty). As eight or so cops casually observed the conference from across the street, Beric German of the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee speculated on how much each one was being paid: "About fifty dollars an hour?"

Such was the theme of the conference: couldn't the $2 million being spent on CCTV cameras be put to better use, you know, feeding and housing people, rather than simply surveilling their hunger and homelessness? OCAP spokesperson Gaetan Heroux observed that two of the six cameras installed in the area in the past week have been strategically placed in front of Canada's first- and second-largest men's hostels, and that all of them are within a neighbourhood that has "one of the largest concentrations of homeless people in Canada." In the past year, five major hostels have been shut down by the City (partially due to a supposed lack of funds), meaning 300 fewer shelter beds, and "service reductions" have resulted in 341,000 lost meals. And yet "we're told somehow that these cameras are going to keep us safe."

Zoe Dod from Street Health spent three months interviewing homeless men and women. "Cameras and police surveillance are not among the solutions to homelessness....Cameras displace people into alleyways and streets that are less well-lit." And without even any public consultation, "the police can [now] collect whatever information they want without a watchdog" overseeing them.

Mark Bill lives down the road from the intersection and stated perhaps the most important point: "On top of everything else, they don't work. A study by the British Home Office [PDF] showed them to be a near-complete failure in Britain."

German held up the TDRC's Street Health Report 2007 [PDF], stating that 69% of homeless people in their survey had experienced hunger at least one day per week in the previous three months, exclaiming, "This camera doesn't provide food! $2 million could provide a lot of food and keep two shelters open for the winter!" As the first snow of the year fluttered down around us, this last point took on extra gravity.

The city shut down the 300 beds, the province's welfare rates haven't kept pace with twenty years of increases in the cost of living, and the federal government has no housing strategy. "After you've given us these things," said German, "and you want cameras, we'll talk."

A reporter observed that, given the number of people living on the street, having the cameras in the area is "similar to having cameras in people's living rooms." Unlike people visiting the Entertainment District to club or the Yonge and Dundas area to shop (but very much like the people living in Malvern and Jane-Finch), "people here don't have a choice," said Heroux.

Not that anyone really had the option to decline cameras in the first place. The supposed "consultations" that were held essentially consisted of the police stating, "Here's what we're going to do. Any questions?" Indeed, one of the police's own reports on the outcome of the "consultations" referred to the members of the public who came out not as "participants" or even "attendees" but as "the audience." And because it's all a "pilot," the police take this to mean that most of the Privacy Commissioner's guidelines [PDF] don't apply. At this point, there's no accountability mechanism. They haven't demonstrated that every other method for reducing crime has been tried or that the loss of privacy is minimal and proportionate. Hell, they haven't even said how many cameras there are. They just keep putting them up. The original deal, and the premise of the first round of "consultations," was that the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services had granted the Toronto Police Service $2 million for fifteen cameras to be spread across the Entertainment District, the Jane-Finch area, Malvern, and one other section of Scarborough. But since the cameras put up along Yonge Street to watch Caribana still haven't come down and the six new ones have gone up in the east side of the core, doesn't that take the count to at least twenty-five? Or have some come down?

Many governments ignore social problems in the hope that they'll magically go away; passively observing them instead isn't much of a step up.


David said...

I can't find a contact e-mail for the person writing this, but the Torontoist article is at

If you could please link to the article in this post, as well as credit it to the proper author, Jonathan Goldsbie, that'd be great. I'd also appreciate it if you could keep your quoting of our content to a paragraph or two, rather than the entirety of an article.


David Topping
Editor, Torontoist

Oread Daily said...

Why don't want your entire articles posted...seems strange...I'd think you would want people to read the article.

I'll post the link now...sorry, I guess I figure if people want to read the article a second time they can find it on their own...I figure the people reading this article are, at least, as smart as I am.