Calling privacy commissioner 'threatening' over bodycams, N.L. town vows to use them again

·3 min read
A Calgary police officer shows his body-worn camera. Only a handful of police forces in Canada use them, mainly in larger cities. (Helen Pike/CBC - image credit)
A Calgary police officer shows his body-worn camera. Only a handful of police forces in Canada use them, mainly in larger cities. (Helen Pike/CBC - image credit)

The Town of Happy Valley-Goose Bay isn't holding back its condemnation of a recent privacy commissioner's report calling for the town to scrap its use of bodycams on enforcement officers.

In fact, Deputy Mayor Bert Pomeroy is doubling down, and vowing to bring the controversial cameras back into use.

"We're of the view that the privacy commissioner's office was unreasonable, and had an adversarial and disrespectful approach to filing its investigation," said Pomeroy on Thursday.

That investigation was sparked by the town approving bodycams for its municipal enforcement and animal control officers in March 2020. The town says they were worn from July through October.

Michael Harvey, Newfoundland and Labrador's information and privacy commissioner, led the investigation, which concluded earlier this month with a report saying the entire program should be scrapped, due to myriad concerns about collecting citizens' data. Harvey listed issues with the cameras' collecting more information than needed and how that information would be stored, and asked why the town council was allowed to access the footage.

The town shot back with a strongly worded letter of its own Tuesday, calling the entire privacy report an overstepping of the office's mandate and powers.

The town also said the investigation and final report was marked with a "threatening tone" as the commissioner said if he pursued a court summons it may create "unwanted publicity" for the town.

"To clearly threaten a mayor or town manager with unwanted publicity is unprofessional and unacceptable," states the town's letter, from Nadine MacAulay, director of financial operations and co-town manager.

Happy Valley-Goose Bay Deputy Mayor Bert Pomeroy says the town will work on bringing back bodycams and this time comply with legislation. File photo.
Happy Valley-Goose Bay Deputy Mayor Bert Pomeroy says the town will work on bringing back bodycams and this time comply with legislation. File photo.(Jacob Barker/CBC)

Pomeroy said the investigation was at times fraught.

"We do admit there was a breakdown in communications at one point," he said. When that breakdown was identified by council, Pomeroy said, officials moved to address it.

"The willingness has always been there on behalf of the town to do this and do this right," he told CBC Radio's Labrador Morning.

Cameras will return

The two sides continue to differ on whether the bodycams should return. Pomeroy said the town intends to bring back the cameras, "but to make it better."

"We will continue to move forward with developing a body-worn camera policy, one that complies with the legislation," Pomeroy said.

A new policy won't necessarily include public consultation, a hallmark of the other handful of Canadian places that have introduced bodycams into use, most of them large jurisdictions, including Calgary or Toronto. With continued coverage of the privacy hot potato, Pomeroy said, "the issue is certainly well out there in the public realm."

But it appears no specific meetings or town halls are planned.

"Does every policy or every protocol or procedure that the town follows through on involve a widespread public consultation? Not always," Pomeroy said.

He chalked some of the controversy up to Newfoundland and Labrador's relative inexperience with bodycams.

"We looked at this as a proactive measure, not only to protect our enforcement officials but also to protect the public," he said. "Initiating a body camera program is nothing new in certain parts of Canada; it just happens to be something new in this province."

Pomeroy said the town has filed a judicial review to have the courts rule on the privacy commissioner's report.

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