A wildlife group in Cape Breton is suggesting the use of private security cameras to catch people who feed the birds in parks, raising questions about the legality of video surveillance in public places.
Last week, the Port Morien Wildlife Association asked Cape Breton Regional Municipality councillors to create a bylaw banning wildlife feeding in parks, saying ducks, geese and pigeons are ruining the grass and their feces are a public health hazard.
Officials said it might be difficult to enforce, but the association said it is considering putting up its own cameras at the pond in John Bernard Croak Memorial Park in Glace Bay, and neighbours there have security camera images of people who regularly feed the birds, including pictures of their licence plates.
Municipal staff will be examining the bylaw request, along with how it could be enforced. Any decision to go ahead would be up to regional council.
Nova Scotia's information and privacy commissioner, Tricia Ralph, said although there are Supreme Court of Canada rulings saying people have a right to expect some privacy in public places, the province's privacy laws have not been updated for decades.
"Our legislation was drafted in 1993 ... before Google was created, before Facebook was created and it's not up to the task of routine access and privacy issues, let alone [artificial intelligence] or surveillance and all of the things that have been developed since that time, [such as] facial recognition, all of that kind of stuff," she said.
Ralph said her office's website contains surveillance guidelines for municipalities, but they are not mandatory, and whether they can — or should — use video surveillance for bylaw enforcement is not cut and dried.
"There are times when you can survey in public places, but there's limits on that power and even if there aren't specific limits set out in the legislation, because we have such dated legislation here in Nova Scotia, we should still be doing the right thing here," she said.
Those things include posting signs saying the area is under surveillance, under what authority and listing a contact number for people to call with concerns.
Before that, though, Ralph said she recommends municipalities conduct a privacy impact assessment to determine whether surveillance is the best option.
"This is probably really the most important one here: is the loss of privacy created by the surveillance really proportional to the need?" she said.
Issue with bylaw enforcement
Even though the privacy commissioner only has jurisdiction over municipalities under freedom-of-information legislation, municipalities are required by other legislation to treat video surveillance footage like private information that has to be kept secure, Ralph said.
CBRM Mayor Amanda McDougall said every time the municipality considers a new bylaw, council and staff have to take into account limited resources and the fact it only has three bylaw officers.
"We've had this issue with many of our bylaws and it always comes down to enforcement," she said. "If you don't have the people power on the ground to be able to enforce the bylaw, what are other methods?"
McDougall said video surveillance is commonly used to catch people illegally dumping garbage, but staff will have to weigh in on whether CBRM can or should use surveillance for other purposes.
"What we would need is a legal response on that and again, we will be discussing that in council," she said. "From a personal point of view, I would err on the side of caution.
"More conversations definitely need to be held around the use of video surveillance, disclosure of the use of video surveillance and how that information is used."
McDougall said a staff report on the pros and cons of a bylaw and possible enforcement will come back to a future council meeting before any decision is made.
MORE TOP STORIES