Vancouver city council has voted down a controversial proposal that would have seen CCTV cameras installed in public spaces to address concerns around crime.
Only Non-Partisan Association (NPA) Coun. Melissa De Genova, who introduced the motion, voted in favour of it.
Her proposal came with public safety shaping up to be an election issue in October’s municipal vote, and as Vancouver police say the city is seeing about four random assaults per day.
“I’m hearing from people… especially women and young families, I’m hearing from employees that work in retail that have to walk in the evenings to transit, I’m hearing from young families who live in condominiums and apartments especially downtown and they rely on parks and community centers as their living rooms and their back yards, that they don’t feel safe,” De Genova told Global News.
“I think we have to do what we can to decrease violent crime in the city. I’m not saying CCTV cameras will fix it all, but I think it’s a step in the right direction, another tool in the toolbox.”
De Genova’s motion cited the use of CCTV cameras and facial recognition software in cities like New York and London, arguing that police already make use of footage from privately-owned security cameras to solve crimes.
The motion was first heard at council Tuesday night, where it prompted heated debate and pushback from several other councillors.
“Canadians are entitled to a reasonable amount of privacy and without a warrant this would be invalid,” said Green Coun. Pete Fry.
“(I’m) hearing significant concerns about the way CCTV further criminalizes poverty and people already experiencing various forms of marginalization, and there’s certainly studies out there that back up those concerns,” One City Coun. Christine Boyle said.
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association has also weighed in, raising concerns of its own about the use of cameras in public spaces, as well as the use of facial recognition technology.
Brenda McPhail, director of the CCLA’s privacy, technology and surveillance program, cited recent draft guidelines from Canada’s privacy commissioner highlighting the significant risks to privacy the technology brings to the table.
Regardless of whether they use facial recognition, McPhail said if the city wants to install cameras it should provide data backing up the need for them in specific locations, and explain why less intrusive measures can’t be used instead.
“There’s a ton of data out there from countries like the U.K. where they’ve been using this method for decades, that shows that any deterrence effective is very short lived and very minimal,” she said.
“What is the data in Vancouver of the success rates of police using video to catch perpetrators of these crimes? We need those kinds of numbers to determine whether or not it is actually necessary to add more of them.”
If it had been approved, De Genova’s motion would have instructed city staff to work with Vancouver police to identify “critical areas” where CCTV could be installed, and to report back in the fall with recommendations, including how to fund them.
The motion would have also seen the VPD and B.C.’s Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner conduct a privacy impact assessment.