Some residents of Chinatown are outraged that Toronto police are planning to install closed circuit television cameras in three locations west of downtown.
Police say the cameras are to be installed at Dundas Street West and Bathurst Street, Dundas Street West and Spadina Avenue, and Queen Street West and Augusta Avenue. Neighbourhoods that would be affected are Kensington Market, Chinatown and Alexandra Park.
Residents say the cameras will invade their privacy, the surveillance will be dehumanizing, and police have not presented the data to justify what residents call “policing by camera.”
Rick Wong, a volunteer instructor at Hong Luck Kung Fu Club, said he has “serious objections” to the plan.
“I think we all have to take personal privacy issues seriously,” Wong said.
“It’s a slippery slope. It’s one thing for somebody to take my photograph and put it on Facebook. It’s another thing for the state, or law enforcement officials, to be creating a database out of this information and using it for who knows what purposes. I really think it violates personal privacy.”
Wong said if the cameras were to be installed, he would have many questions: “Who is handling the information? How it is stored? Are they using facial recognition software? What protocols are in place in order to protect that information? You get concerned.”
At a town hall meeting on Monday night at Toronto Police 14 Division, at 350 Dovercourt Rd., several people walked out to show their opposition, according to community group Friends of Chinatown. About 50 people were there.
Residents say they were given little notice about the meeting, notices only went out in English, the meeting itself was not held in the community, and police were informing the community about the cameras, not consulting people who live in the area.
The meeting was held more than two kilometres away from Chinatown.
Wong, who attended the meeting, said no background information on the cameras was provided, no contact information for the police was given, and no data was presented to back up police claims that CCTV cameras deter violent crime. He said senior police managers who made the decision to install the cameras were not there.
The consultation process as “haphazard,” “flawed” and “opaque,” he said.
“Everybody came away in opposition to the way the proposal has been handled,” Wong added.
Cameras at entrances, exits to Alexandra Park
The cameras would essentially place the entrances and exits to Alexandra Park, a racialized public housing neighbourhood, under ’round-the-clock surveillance without community consent, Wong said.
Meanwhile, the cameras at Dundas Street West and Bathurst Street would be able to film the main entrance and emergency drop-off at Toronto Western Hospital, which would potentially violate medical privacy, he added.
Wong said he wonders which watchdog would be in place to ensure that police follow Ontario privacy guidelines.
Jenn Chan, a member of the Friends of Chinatown, said she is concerned about privacy. She noted that more than 60 per cent of the people who live in Chinatown and Kensington Market are members of visible minorities.
Friends of Chinatown were not satisfied with the police consultation, she added.
“It reinforces stereotypes about people who live in this area, in Chinatown and Kensington, and one of our values is that racialized people feel safe in the spaces that they live in,” Chan said.
Cameras not for surveillance, police say
Connie Osborne, spokesperson for the Toronto Police Service, said the cameras would be installed to help police collect evidence after criminal incidents. The cameras would not be monitored in real time. The footage would only be held for 72 hours, she added.
Osborne said police are holding more than 200 “engagements” to get community feedback. The location of the cameras is based in part on community engagement and in part on major crime indicators, she said.
“These cameras are not in any way to be used as surveillance,” Osborne said.
“We have had an overwhelming response of support from the communities. Originally, these cameras were introduced because of concerns from the communities. They were saying: ‘We want to feel safer where we live, where we work.’ It’s there to help solve crime,” she added.
“At the end of the day, we want to put cameras where crimes are happening. It’s all about protecting the communities and identifying potentially dangerous suspects.”