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Mayor urges police to halt licence-plate camera use

Dec 08 2012

Victoria police should turn off their automated licence-plate-recognition cameras until the department complies with B.C.'s privacy law, says the city's mayor.

Dean Fortin said he'll introduce a motion to the Victoria Police Board on Tuesday that directs the department to temporarily suspend the camera system until it follows recommendations made in a recent report by the province's privacy commissioner.

"In my mind, we have had a ruling come down from Elizabeth Denham, who is the information and privacy commissioner, and there are recommendations that will allow us to come into compliance," Fortin said. "For me, I think it's important we do comply with the privacy laws of British Columbia."

The motion appears to clash with VicPD's internal position on the camera system and privacy report.

Police Chief Jamie Graham has previously said he "respectfully disagrees" with parts of the commissioner's report, and views the camera systems as providing a valuable service to the community by flagging potentially unsafe drivers.

The department has also said it isn't able to change how the camera system works, because the hardware and software are managed by the RCMP.

"VicPD's perspective on this issue is clear and I look forward to a thorough discussion of this matter with the entire police board," Graham said in a statement Friday.

Saanich police suspended use of the cameras late last month, saying it wanted to show Denham good faith as it investigated how to make changes.

In her Nov. 15 report, Denham said VicPD and other police departments have been breaking the province's privacy law by gathering - and sharing with the RCMP - information about innocent people who have been inadvertently recorded by licence-plate cameras.

The cameras can record up to 3,000 licence plates per hour, and automatically flag stolen vehicles, wanted people, prohibited drivers and uninsured vehicles, as well as people with child-custody disputes, certain court cases, firearms infractions, connections to known criminals and previous suicide attempts.

Denham recommended police narrow scans to only traffic-related violations and automatically delete "non-hit" data on people who have done nothing wrong, rather than pass that data to the RCMP for deletion later.

The nine-person civilian police board that oversees Victoria police will vote on Fortin's motion. The board does not generally direct the force on what are called "operational" matters, but does approve policies and procedures.

"In my mind, it's a policy decision that's best considered by the police board," said Fortin. "But we obviously want to hear from our senior management, and we obviously want to hear from each individual board member. I think it's appropriate to put it before us for consideration."

Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins said she generally supports the cameras, having been flagged by the system once for driving with an expired licence.

"There are good and positive things that come out of this - I think we need to look at that," she said.

Desjardins said she'll also seek advice on the department's legal position.

Denham has previously said she expects VicPD and other police forces to follow her recommendations and adhere to the privacy law. If not, she said she can issue a legal order that forces an organization to comply. rshaw@timescolonist.com

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