CBC Digital Archives

Surveillance cameras: 'Automated blackmail'

You are being watched. From street corners and roadsides, bank machines and satellites, video cameras record our every move. For police forces, photo radar, street surveillance, cruiser cams and tiny cameras have become efficient crime-fighting tools, gathering irrefutable proof of criminal activity and deterring would-be lawbreakers. For others, video surveillance is an uncomfortable erosion of civil liberties, the unblinking eyes of Big Brother.

media clip
Snap. A fuzzy picture is taken, and a letter arrives in your mail that says "send money now, if you want to drive again." Sound like extortion? Commentator Amy Cross thinks so. She calls Ontario's introduction of photo radar "the newest form of highway robbery." The thing that sticks most in Cross's craw is the fact that there's just no sense in pleading with a machine. 
. The Ontario photo radar set-up consisted of four unmarked Chevy Astro minivans parked in safe locations on highway roadsides, particularly the high-speed 400-series highways around Toronto. Signs were erected to indicate areas enforced by photo radar.
. Some Ontario drivers tried installing polarized filters or plastic films to hide their license plates from the system, but these methods were either ineffective or determined to be illegal.

. Photo radar tickets were issued automatically by mail. A specific court dedicated to photo radar was created. Unlike the case for previous violations, drivers wishing to contest their photo radar tickets had to show up in person to request a trial date. It was hoped this system would discourage the large numbers of people who asked for trials but did not show up.

. Ontario's New Democratic government was the first to test the photo radar waters in the province, but the system was scrapped in 1995 by the Conservatives, who had promised to kill photo radar during the campaign that brought them to power.

. The Canadian Automobile Association has long opposed the use of photo radar as a "tax grab" aimed at motorists. They urge police to actually pull vehicles over, to "ensure that the motorist is completely aware of the citation and the time and place of occurrence, that the correct individual is charged, and that the individual can modify his/her driving behaviour." They support limited use of photo radar "to reduce the severity and frequency of collisions, not to generate revenue."

A similarly negative view was expressed in a 1994 interview with Brian Lawrie, president of Pointts (a company that helps motorists fight tickets). Among his arguments:
. Driving faster than posted limits isn't cited as a major factor in most accidents. Greater risks such as following too closely, driving too fast for conditions, lane violations, drugs and alcohol, aggressive driving, driver fatigue and inattention are ignored by photo radar.

. Ticketed drivers cannot give any context (e.g. other vehicles) or plead extenuating circumstances (e.g. driving to the hospital) - by the time the ticket arrives, they may not even remember the violation
. Only the owner of the car is punished, not the driver (who could be a friend or even a mechanic; the system can't tell)

. In January 2004, Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty suggested Ontario could re-deploy photo radar on its highways to raise badly needed funds. "I have long been a supporter of photo radar," the premier told reporters on his way into a cabinet meeting. "It's a revenue generator, absolutely." The comeback was also a priority for Greater Toronto Area mayors.
Medium: Radio
Program: Metro Morning
Broadcast Date: Aug. 17, 1994
Guest(s):
Commentator: Amy Cross
Host: Maureen Taylor
Duration: 3:28

Last updated: September 19, 2013

Page consulted on September 10, 2014

All Clips from this Topic

Related Content

Mounties on Duty: A History of the RCMP

He's a strong, brave, honest, horseback-riding Canadian in a red tunic who always gets his man...

Kim Campbell, First and Foremost

When Kim Campbell set her sights on Ottawa, she was a tart-tongued, unapologetically determine...

1969: Montreal's 'night of terror'

Looting, rioting and robberies break out when police officers stage a 16-hour strike in Montre...

2001: Air traffic halted after four planes hi...

Following four airplane hijackings in the United States, thousands of travelers are stranded i...