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Big Brother calls from London

It was more than a little patronizing when, in late October, London, England-based Privacy International issued a complaint to Ontario’s privacy commissioner regarding the Toronto Transit Commission’s plans to deploy 10,000 cameras throughout its system.



November 16, 2007
By Jennifer Brown


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In its complaint, the watchdog, who fears for the privacy of TTC
commuters, said the transit body failed to establish beyond a
reasonable doubt that there is public-interest justification for the
CCTV project and that the transit body did little to publicize plans
for the project before implementing it.

Having traveled the TTC for years, I can tell you that
whenever I do, I have zero expectation of privacy and it’s not because
of surveillance cameras. When you’re in a public venue or train with
hundreds of other commuters, privacy is not something you come to
expect. You may feel violated by having others so close to your
personal space but you come to accept that you are very much in a
public space.

Clearly this watchdog gets its news from selected sources,
considering the coverage the 2005 Boxing Day shooting of 15-year-old
Jane Creba received when the girl was killed in the Yonge/Dundas
shopping district and the call for cameras in the downtown core that
came shortly after. They also missed reading about the girl who was
wounded while shot riding a Jane-Wilson TTC bus two years ago and the
sad reality that no witnesses came forward. Or, the sense of relief
people felt when the TTC was able to pull video of a suspect from the
Victoria Park subway station following a murder on a train in April of
this year.

Following that murder, Det. Wayne Fowler of the Toronto Police
Homicide Squad said no one had come forward as a witness but,
“Obviously in any investigation surveillance footage helps
tremendously.”
And increasingly, the public has come to realize that in the absence of
eye witnesses, especially in troubled neighbourhoods, the camera lens
is going to be the last resort in helping to solve such crimes.

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Public meetings were held before three cameras were erected
in the downtown core following the Creba shooting and very few people
bothered to show up to express their views either way, leaving one to
assume there weren’t too many people who opposed the idea.

The TTC has, actually, been slow to adopt the kind of surveillance
systems other North American cities have come to recognize as standard
and necessary tools. And yes, people can argue cameras don’t stop
crime, but experts will tell you they help deter crimes and they have
certainly proven to be helpful in the conviction of those who have
chosen to commit them within view of cameras in public spaces.

The real problem, many would argue is that even with video evidence,
too often criminals walk away from the charges. Perhaps an
international watchdog would like to comment on that aspect of our
public accountability system.

In the meantime, our provincial privacy commissioner is busy putting
together a report for Privacy International that oddly no one in this
country has ever asked her or the federal privacy commissioner to
produce.

Jennifer Brown, Editor


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