Citizen group focused on stopping ByWard Market surveillance cameras

A new coalition of researchers and activists wants the City of Ottawa to pull the plug on a proposal for surveillance cameras in the ByWard Market before they start rolling.

The Coalition Against More Surveillance formed this summer and has launched a letter-writing campaign on its website, trying to get residents to tell Mayor Jim Watson and their councillors they oppose the plan.

Samantha McAleese, a member of the group, said they have a number of concerns — including that they believe the system would be a waste of money.

"All the evidence we have dug up from various jurisdictions indicate that there is no link between CCTV cameras and a reduction in violence," she said.

"Money is being invested in something that does not actually work."


'Hostile environment'

Mayor Jim Watson raised the idea of a camera network in the ByWard Market after several violent incidents earlier this year, including three fatal shootings.

City staff are expected to issue a report later this year, in time for the budget planning process.

For McAleese, however, it's not just about the cost. She said the cameras will make the market a less hospitable place.

"Everyone who enters the area where the CCTV cameras might be would have to be concerned about their privacy," she said.

"If the cameras are installed in the ByWard Market, this would become a hostile environment for certain people."

Since launching the group, McAleese said they've already heard from a number of citizens who are against the plan.

"We are getting some comments already about how people would rather see the money invested in community supports," she said.

Matthew Kupfer/CBC
Matthew Kupfer/CBC

Privacy question

Ann Cavoukian, Ontario's former privacy commissioner and executive director of the Global Privacy and Security by Design Centre, said cities often find surveillance cameras attractive.

They haven't spread aggressively in Canada, but in other parts of the world — like the United Kingdom — they have become ubiquitous, she said.

In societies such as ours, we can take privacy and freedom for granted. - Ann Cavoukian

What's more, they can be used for the wrong reasons, especially when combined with facial recognition technology, and can generate a lot of false positives, Cavoukian said.

She suggested that if the city goes ahead with a network, the video should be encrypted and available to police only if they get a court order.

"Privacy forms the foundation of our freedom. If you value free and democratic societies then you value privacy," Cavoukian said. "But in societies such as ours, we can take privacy and freedom for granted."

Watson's press secretary, Livia Belcea, said the mayor is waiting to hear from staff on the proposal.

"A memo exploring the feasibility of a pilot project of CCTV cameras in the ByWard Market will be brought forth to council later this fall," she said in an email.

"Mayor Watson looks forward to reviewing and considering the findings of the memo once it is available."