Toronto police say they are planning to install CCTV cameras in the Jane and Finch area because they were told that “residents would feel safer,” but the plan has surprised and angered community organizers.
One has already launched an online petition against the move.
“This is surveillance,” said Sam Tecle, a black cultural studies PhD student.
“I’m always against installing cameras and having them surveil black and racialized community members and young people. I don’t know what police will do with this, and what database will it go to? I think it’s a violation of people’s privacy.”
Tecle said he thinks the presence of cameras near Jane Street and Finch Avenue West in the city’s northwest will increase racial profiling by police, which he said is already “rampant” in the neighbourhood.
As well, Tecle and other community members say the police did not consult the community widely about the plan and they are upset.
Installation part of larger $3M plan for 40 cameras
Connie Osborne, spokesperson for the Toronto Police Service, confirmed in an email to CBC Toronto on Wednesday that the police are planning to install the CCTV cameras.
She said it is part of a larger $3 million plan by the province and city to increase the number of CCTV cameras in Toronto from 34 to 74 to curb gun violence.
“The service received feedback through divisions and town hall events and through community members that residents would feel safer with more security cameras in neighbourhoods. The cameras can help detect and deter unwanted activity and crimes,” she said.
Police have decided where to install the cameras based on analysis, she added.
“Camera locations are based on intelligence-led policing and analysis of crime rates in specific areas, with focus on major crime indicators such as firearm-related incidents.”
Osborne said police plan to place cameras only in outside public areas, “which only cover traffic and pedestrian movements.” The footage would not be seen by frontline officers and police will use the camera for specific investigative reasons.
“The cameras will be used for investigation purposes, post reported offence or incident, to help identify suspects, and if needed during major events,” she said.
As for consultation, Osborne said the police notified “community stakeholders” and these stakeholders include businesses that may be covered by the cameras.
“Our officers, within an identified area, consult in advance with stakeholders and community members though face-to-face engagement and notifications, to advise on plans for installation and gather feedback. If there is any feedback not supporting the first location, a secondary location is identified and the process is repeated.”
Police issued notice to ‘stakeholders’ in December
In a public notice issued in December, police said they identified the Jane and Finch neighbourhood as the location for a closed circuit television camera that would be owned and managed by the police.
“We wish to be completely transparent about the installation of the cameras and therefore are notifying all of our relevant community stakeholders of the CCTV camera locations,” police said in the notice.
In the notice, police said they would use the cameras and footage to deter crime, increase public safety, identify suspects in crimes and obtain evidence for court. Signs below the cameras would alert members of the public that they are entering an area that is being filmed.
As well, police said in the notice they would not monitor the cameras in real time and they would capture only public spaces outside and not the interior of homes. They said the footage would be held for only 72 hours, before it is erased and recorded over.
But Tecle said the CCTV cameras will not enhance the neighbourhood.
“All it will do is increase police powers and increase the role of policing in our lives. And I think that’s something that we’ve been trying to work so hard in this community to push back against, police in schools, carding.”
Community not consulted, community organizer says
If police can do it in the Jane and Finch neighbourhood, they will do it in other neighbourhoods, he added.
Tecle said community organizers heard nothing about the CCTV cameras and found out from Brookview Middle School, which received a notice, he said.
Given that police recently admitted that some officers had used Clearview AI technology before being told to stop by Chief Mark Saunders, Tecle said he does not trust the police. The technology is a powerful and controversial facial recognition tool that works by scraping billions of images from the internet.
Butterfly GoPaul, a community health worker, said the community was not consulted.
“If there was a consultation, we would have known and we would have attended and there was no consultation,” she said. “With technology today, we can’t even trust that it’s deleted and backed up.”
Community organizers said they will hold their own public meeting next month to discuss the issue.