Some Ottawa parents of children with autism are calling for cameras to be installed inside classrooms to keep watch over students with disabilities who may not be able to speak for themselves.
Deborah Christian said the cameras would provide parents like her a sense of peace, knowing that what goes on in the classroom would be recorded.
Her son has autism, and she remembers how proud she was when he boarded the school bus on his first day of kindergarten.
She never imagined that just 15 months later, she would be pulling the five-year-old out of school over concerns for his safety.
"If you're not doing anything inappropriate, then you shouldn't be concerned with who's watching and who's looking," she said.
Shortly after her son started at Good Shepherd School in Gloucester in 2018, his behaviour started changing, Christian said. She said he would often come home and give himself timeouts and had regressed on his toileting.
She believed so strongly that something was going on at the school that she took the extraordinary measure of outfitting him with an audio recording device.
"I felt that the risk-benefit ratio of capturing that evidence was critical to implementing change in our schools," Christian said.
Quest for answers
Alyssia Klyne is also on a quest for answers after her six-year-old son, who also has autism and is mostly non-verbal, came home from Mary Honeywell School in Barrhaven this past February with red marks on his chest.
Klyne said she was told by the vice-principal that her son was crawling under a desk and had to be lifted out by an early childhood educator who was concerned he was going to be injured by the plastic divider attached to the desk.
Klyne doesn't believe her son was in any real danger and said he shouldn't have been touched at all, especially in a way that left marks on his body.
"There is no trust, there is no trust in the school system at all right now because nobody is accepting responsibility," she said.
In Orléans, Amanda Lauzon said she wishes she had done more two years ago.
That's when her daughter told her that an educational assistant at La Source elementary school had slapped her brother across the face during recess, Lauzon said, and swore at him in French.
"I was in disbelief," said Lauzon.
"For him it was like, 'Yeah, he hit me.' He didn't really understand that he shouldn't be treated like that at the time, so it was kind of heartbreaking for us to find that out like that," she said.
Lauzon's son, who has autism, was 10 at the time. She said he had difficulty regulating his emotions at school, which sometimes led to aggressive outbursts and entire classrooms being evacuated.
The investigation into the slapping incident, Lauzon said, didn't amount to any change. And while a camera wouldn't have provided answers, Lauzon said it could have helped determine what caused her son's outbursts and offered insight into possible solutions.
School boards react
The Ottawa Catholic School Board (OCSB) says it follows video surveillance guidelines put forth by the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario, and will not be adding cameras to classrooms at Good Shepherd or elsewhere.
"Typically, a camera is installed in an area where repeated safety, theft, or vandalism issues have occurred and could not be resolved by less intrusive measures such as increased supervision or other actions," OCSB wrote in a statement to CBC.
The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) wouldn't comment on the incident at Mary Honeywell School due to "privacy limitations" but said it too follows the provincial guidelines.
"The policy outlines that video surveillance shall not be used for the purpose of monitoring staff performing their assigned duties," OCDSB spokesperson Darcy Knoll wrote in an email to CBC.
The Conseil des écoles catholiques du Center-Est (CECCE) said in a statement that the case involving Lauzon's son at La Source was closed following an outside investigation.
The board said it too has a policy on camera surveillance that aims to protect public safety while balancing the privacy rights of students.
'It requires a balance of rights'
Jean Trant, president of the student support professionals' bargaining unit with the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF), said surveillance footage could be misinterpreted.
"Sometimes, somebody reacts to a situation, and we don't know why they react that way. Or they could have been just pushed beyond their limits and a reaction happens," Trant said.
"The intent is not there to hurt a student, by any stretch of the imagination. But that is the outcome."
"How is anybody supposed to work knowing the big brother is watching every single move they make?" - Jean Trant
Trant said she understands parents' concerns, but the real answer involves hiring more educational assistants to provide support.
"How is anybody supposed to work knowing the big brother is watching every single move they make?" Trant said.
Michael Bryant, executive director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, said a number of questions would need answering, including who controls the camera, who will have access to the footage and how it can be used.
"It requires a balance of rights," Bryant said.
"It's a big community of people in that classroom at that one time, and the whole community needs to agree to it in order for it to be authorized."
He pointed to a recent decision by the Supreme Court of Canada that ruled students doing everyday activities at school don't give up their privacy rights — even if the school uses security cameras.
Former Ontario privacy commissioner Ann Cavoukian said the idea makes her "cringe" because she feels students should not be getting used to the idea that cameras are everywhere.
Cavoukian said she understands the concerns, but feels that if cameras were to be used in some cases it should only be on a very limited basis for a brief period of time.
"Privacy forms the foundation of our freedom," she said. "If you value free and open societies, you value privacy, we need to preserve it now and well into the future."