Happy Valley Goose Bay, privacy commissioner clash over body cameras
By Canadian Press
By Canadian Press
May 23, 2021 – The Town of Happy Valley-Goose Bay has filed for a judicial review of a scathing report by the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC) on the Labrador town’s use of body cameras.
Deputy Mayor Bert Pomeroy said the town had a number of serious concerns with the investigation the privacy commissioner conducted and the subsequent report.
“We felt it was an unreasonable, disrespectful and adversarial approach in dealing with this investigation and felt it was very unprofessional,” he said.
The town began using body cameras last July and Privacy Commissioner Michael Harvey expressed concerns about the collection and use of the information. Harvey told SaltWire Network at that time he was surprised the town had not contacted his office regarding the body cameras, since concerns around their use fell under privacy legislation.
In the report, Harvey said he had trouble reaching the town to speak about the cameras and proceeded with an investigation to compel the town to take part.
Pomeroy said there were some communication issues between the town and OIPC, but they were resolved, and all information requested was provided. There were staffing issues within the town, he said, and they had communicated that to the commissioner.
The report by OIPC included a number of concerns, including calling into question whether the municipal enforcement officer (MEO) and animal control officer in Happy Valley-Goose Bay have the authority to collect personal information through the body cameras, and expressed concerns about who had the ability to access the videos.
“Even at this date, the town still appears to be unclear about whether its municipal enforcement officer is a peace officer or rather, per the Municipalities Act, 1999, has the powers of a police officer for certain purposes,” the report read. “The notion that the town has officials in the community exercising law enforcement authorities when it is unclear whether they have those authorities has implications for how they collect personal information, but beyond that, is quite troubling in general.”
The report said the previous body camera policy and program were not compliant with the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (ATIPPA), and while the program is currently on hold the town should formally suspend it through a motion of council.
“We are of the view that the town should consider entirely abandoning the initiative and re-examine its approach to the policy problem—trust issues with town enforcement—from scratch; however, we recommend that it should, at a minimum, overhaul its policy through conducting appropriate consultation and addressing the deficiencies identified in this report,” the OIPC report reads.
It made four recommendations, including that the town hold public consultations and “conduct a robust privacy assessment of the program and submit it to the OIPC for review prior to program launch” before bringing back the use of body cameras.
Pomeroy said the town feels the OIPC exceeded its authority in some of the recommendations in the report, including that the town demonstrate full compliance with ATIPPA before resuming the use of body cameras.
“The town handles a lot of personal, private information, so to suggest that any program by the town is run past their office is unreasonable,” he said. “We’ll take the recommendations and suggestions under advisement, but we have no obligation to follow through on the recommendation, nor does, in our view, the privacy commissioner have the power to enforce recommendations around this.”
The town outlined its concerns in a public response to the report, which said that requiring pre-approval of programs by the OIPC would “add another huge burden to an already-challenging access and privacy regime and divert its limited resources from other programs and services.”
Pomeroy said while the use of body cameras is suspended for now, council does plan to work on the policy and bring them back.
“We have no intention of scrapping the body camera policy and we will ensure that it does comply with the legislation. However, some of the recommendations that were put forward are more or less opinions and commentary, and perhaps the personal view of the commissioner or those that are involved.”
He said council wants to do everything above board and work with the privacy commissioner, but what they see as the adversarial tone of the conversation makes it difficult.
SaltWire Network contacted Harvey’s office for comment on the town’s response, but was told that since the matter is before the courts it would be inappropriate for him to comment.