Police to keep an eye on Aberdeen

Aberdeen St. video cameras installed without prior warning

A camera at Earl St. and University Ave.
A camera at Earl St. and University Ave.
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A camera and sign at William and Aberdeen Streets.
A camera and sign at William and Aberdeen Streets.
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A sign notifying passersby of CCTV surveillance, as advised by the Canadian Privacy Commissioner’s public surveillance guidelines.
A sign notifying passersby of CCTV surveillance, as advised by the Canadian Privacy Commissioner’s public surveillance guidelines.
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The Kingston Police Force (KPF) put up surveillance cameras on Aberdeen St. ahead of this year’s Homecoming, as they did in 2013 — but until Thursday, the signs notifying students of the cameras’ presence, as recommended by federal guidelines, weren’t fully installed.

The KPF has been allowed to put up surveillance cameras in the Aberdeen St. area since 2006, when a motion permitting and encouraging it was passed at City Council. The cameras are installed early for logistical reasons but not turned on until Homecoming begins.

Sam Kary first noticed a camera on his street last year. The camera stayed up through mid- to late November.

Kary, ArtSci ’15, saw the cameras again last week, at Aberdeen and Johnson Streets, Earl St. and University Ave. and Aberdeen and William Streets.

After seeing the cameras, he tweeted at the KPF, asking who he could speak to about the cameras and whether they complied with the Canadian Privacy Commissioner’s guidelines for video surveillance of public places.

The guidelines recommend giving the public “reasonable and adequate warning”, with clearly written signs prominently displayed at the perimeter of the surveillance area. The signs should also identify someone who can answer questions about the surveillance system, which can include a phone number or website.

“They responded by saying their social media person was off today, even though I’d seen other tweets going out, but they would get back to me shortly,” Kary said.

When they did reply, they told Kary that the cameras weren’t on, signs would go up on Oct. 14 and the cameras were there for Homecoming weekend. The signs weren’t all up until Thursday.

“I let them know I did not find their response satisfactory,” Kary said.

Kary said he understands the need to have the cameras up, but he’s concerned that the police didn’t publicly advertise the cameras or consult with the public before putting them up, as the commissioner’s guidelines advise.

He said he spoke to AMS Municipal Affairs Commissioner Ariel Aguilar about whether he’d been consulted about the cameras.

“He responded that he had, but they hadn’t gone into the details of how the cameras would be deployed, which essentially tells me that he also was not considering my privacy and my life when he was making the decision,” Kary said.

“We can’t expect the police to take this seriously if City Council and AMS have both proved that they don’t care if the police don’t take it seriously.”

Aguilar, ArtSci ’16, said he hadn’t heard any opposition to the cameras themselves, but rather the idea of how they’re being used.

“One student mentioned that it’s not 100 per cent clear whether they’re on or off, recording or not,” Aguilar said.

He added that the AMS doesn’t have a policy on surveillance, and his role is to relay students’ concerns to the police.

Vice-president of advancement Tom Harris said the University was aware that cameras would be installed prior to Homecoming, as in past years, and understands that the cameras won’t be turned on until Homecoming begins. The University doesn’t have a stance on the cameras.

“This is public property so I don’t know that we were consulted. I think we knew about it, but I don’t know if we were consulted. I really don’t have anything to say about it,” Harris said.

Const. Steve Koopman, the KPF’s media relations officer, said the surveillance cameras haven’t been a secret.

“We do that because we don’t see any other alternative to get a grand picture of what is going on in the University District area,” he said.

Koopman said there are now nine signs advertising the cameras, at and nearby camera locations. They went up later than expected because they’re put up by City workers, not the police, he said.

“[The cameras] are non-functioning at this point in time. They are not being looked at and reviewed, and nothing is being recorded. And because of that, the street signs weren’t put up as well,” he said. “That is a logistical aspect that we can’t control.”

He added that the earlier signs are put up, the more likely they are to potentially be stolen, forcing workers to have to go out and replace them.

“We’re trying to strike that balance between when we are mounting them, when we’re getting the signs installed and ensuring that hopefully they stay there before the actual recording itself takes place over the Homecoming weekend.”

Koopman wouldn’t state the exact locations or number of cameras, adding that it isn’t difficult to figure out where they are.

“They are in a public space and we are under due diligence from privacy guidelines to follow them to the best of our abilities. But there’s nothing in the guidelines that says we have to give the exact number or locations of the cameras,” he said.

— With files from Natasa Bansagi, Sebastian Leck and Laura Russell

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