Despite Vision Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson and city manager Penny Ballem’s best efforts to turn Vancouver city hall into Kremlin West, sometimes secrets do leak out of 12th and Cambie (a tip of the hat to my sources).
Such as the following email exchange, in which a bureaucrat sought to install surveillance cameras around Bute and Davie streets, where the crosswalks were painted like rainbows in time for the 2013 Pride parade.
From: Chou, Steve
Sent: Thursday, September 04, 2014 2:00 PM
To: Electrical Office
Cc: Balagno, Tal
Subject: Temporarily install cameras at Bute and Davie
I’d like to put in a request to temporarily install cameras at Bute and Davie to record activities taking place at the plaza.
The cameras are waterproof and would be screwed onto a tripod head which could clamp onto a rod with a diameter of 13 to 35mm (see attached photos). We’re supplying the cameras and the tripod head but we don’t have anything with which to attach the tripod to a pole. The cameras aren’t locked to the tripod so they would have to be installed high enough so that people would have a hard time stealing it.
To operate the camera, just press the power button on the side of the camera. The screen will turn on. To start recording, simply press the white circular button underneath the screen.
In terms of timing, we’d like to see a camera temporarily installed on a Friday at around 7pm and then replaced on Saturday with another one at 7pm (each camera only has enough juice for about 4 hrs). The second camera could be taken down on Sunday. It would be great if you could please leave both the cameras with the security desk at National and I can come down to retrieve them.
Tal and I will be going on site tomorrow (Friday) to determine the placement of the cameras.
If you need to charge the work to us, please use WSB EET-00015-04.
Please feel free to let me know if you need more information!
Streets Activities, VIVA Vancouver
Visit us online: vancouver.ca/viva
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From: Brown, Ken
Sent: Friday, September 05, 2014 8:44 PM
To: Chou, Steve
Cc: Balagno, Tal; MacKenzie, Craig; Electrical Office
Subject: FW: Temporarily install cameras at Bute and Davie
Before we can move forward with the installation of the video cameras at Bute & Davie, you will need to vet this through Risk Management and Legal Services. We will not be able to accommodate your request without their prior approval.
Under the Robertson/Ballem regime’s communications clampdown, bureaucrats are restricted from talking to the media, so I had to make do with the following emailed statement from city spokesman Tobin Postma:
“As part of the Bute Street Plaza pilot, staff were exploring the idea of installing a camera so that we could find out how many people use the plaza at night.
“However, as the year-long pilot is now complete and Bute street will now be re-opened to traffic that camera is no longer needed which is why the request for one to be installed was cancelled.
“Staff are now collecting feedback from people on the Pilot project to help determine the future of this space as part of the Davie Village and West End community and to identify any improvements.”
Postma, it must be noted, refused to answer my question about whether a privacy impact assessment had been conducted regarding the proposed installation at the specified location.
In a 2008 letter, then-Information and Privacy Commissioner David Loukidelis told then-Attorney General Wally Oppal and then-Solicitor General John van Dongen: “CCTV should only be implemented to combat serious, documented and intractable problems with serious crime. It should only be used where all reasonable alternatives have been tried and found to fail or would clearly fail… it is critical that any public body that is contemplating video surveillance complete a privacy impact assessment before making any decision to proceed with surveillance. A copy of the completed PIA should be provided to my office before the decision is made to proceed.”
In 2009, the city did write a privacy impact assessment for its Temporary Event Management and Public Safety mobile CCTV system. Did this policy apply to the temporary installation of a camera at Davie and Bute? Did it directly or indirectly impact the cancellation of the planned surveillance? If gauging public use of a public space was really the primary objective of this proposed surveillance, was there a secondary or tertiary use pondered for the footage? How long would it have been stored and to whom would access have been granted?
The public will be learning more about Vancouver city hall’s use of video surveillance in the coming weeks. An Aug. 28 order by an adjudicator for the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner ruled that the city must disclose documents about the CCTV system to a Freedom of Information applicant by Oct. 10.