Is hidden surveillance legal?

A monitor in the RM of La Broquerie vault proves that there are hidden cameras monitoring nearly every room in the RM office. Cam 1 – assistant CAO’s office; Cam 2 – staff lunch room; Cam 3 – unknown; Cam 4 – council chambers; Cam 5 – unknown; Cam 6 – the vault; Cam 7 – CAO’s office (paper over the camera); Cam 8 – furnace room (disconnected); Cam 9 – back door; Cam 10 – Beside front door, monitoring the conservation district doors.

By Marianne Curtis

   When Lori Wood, a former administrator in the RM of La Broquerie alleged that hidden surveillance cameras had been installed throughout the municipal office many people, including council members denied their existence.

However, thanks to photographs sent anonymously to the Dawson Trail Dispatch, this can no longer be questioned. The photographs show the monitoring system set up in the municipality’s vault and each room that is under surveillance.

When asked about the cameras, reeve Marielle Wiebe stated that “they were a gift” from one of the councilors. “There is nothing wrong with a ratepayer giving the municipality a gift,” stated Wiebe when the cameras were first exposed several months ago.

In a submission to the provincial public accounts committee Wood alleges that the cameras were paid for with funds by Councilor Ron Hamilton. Wiebe denied that it is a conflict of interest that a councilor would give such a gift to the municipality.

 The Ombudsman is investigating these explosive allegations. If they are true, it is very hard to imagine a legal defence says Brian Bowman. Bowman is a partner with the law firm of Pitblado LLP. He is nationally recognized leader in privacy and access to information law.

“The use of hidden cameras is extremely privacy-invasive. That’s because video surveillance involves the collection of significant amounts of personal information that may be unrelated to the initial purposes for their use,” says Bowman. “The technology does not discriminate. This can lead to judgments being made about individuals who have nothing to do with the purpose for using the cameras in the first place.”

He added that covert video surveillance can be legal in limited circumstances.

“Given the inherent privacy-invasiveness of hidden video surveillance cameras, however, organizations should tread carefully before installing the technology,” Bowman stresses. “There are a number of considerations that are factored by lawyers on a case by case basis to assess whether covert video surveillance is appropriate.”

One of these considerations is whether an organization has a basis to support the use of covert video surveillance, above and beyond a mere suspicion that someone is breaking the law.

“Hidden cameras should not be installed on a hunch,” added Bowman. “If town politicians in La Broquerie are proven to have installed hidden video surveillance cameras as alleged, it’s very difficult to see how these considerations have been met.”

Photographic evidence clearly shows that there are still eight active but hidden cameras throughout the RM of La Broquerie office. They are in the assistant administrator’s office, staff lunch room, monitoring the conservation district office doors, the vault, council chambers, and the administrator’s office. Three others have been disconnected since media began investigating the matter further.

The RM of La Broquerie does have a resolution to install one camera at the front desk to monitor the doors entering the building. However, that camera has also been disconnected.



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2 responses to “Is hidden surveillance legal?

  1. Hi there, anyway, thanks for the info!