Nfld. & Labrador

Privacy commissioner launches investigation into Happy Valley-Goose Bay's body camera policy

The Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner has launched an investigation into the policy on the use of body cameras worn by municipal enforcement and animal control officers in the town of Happy Valley-Goose Bay.

Only a handful of police agencies in Canada use body cameras

Michael Harvey, Newfoundland and Labrador's information and privacy commissioner, says he still has questions about Happy Valley-Goose Bay's body camera policy.  (Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner)

The Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner has launched an investigation into the policy of the use of body cameras worn by municipal enforcement and animal control officers in the town of Happy Valley-Goose Bay.

The provincial information and privacy commissioner told CBC News communication with the town has not always been easy. Now, eight months after the initial review began, he still has questions about the town's policy. 

"This week I decided it would be best if I moved our interactions into a formal investigation, and that gives a clear legal framework for our interactions," said Michael Harvey. 

"We have been giving advice to the town, but in an investigation my recommendations can, depending on what they are about, take on a greater legal force," he said. "Do they have all the safeguards in place in order to do that? Those are the questions we need answered."

I am not saying the town of Happy Valley-Goose Bay can't do this. I am just saying that you really need to be careful.- Michael Harvey

Harvey said his concerns about the town using two body cameras on municipal enforcement and animal control officers centre on whether the expected benefits of the camera outweigh the impact on an individual's privacy. 

He said privacy laws in Canada use a principle that states the minimum necessary information that should be used for legal purposes. 

Mayor Wally Andersen said in October that he hopes the cameras protect people. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

However, Harvey said he hopes when people hear the word "investigation," they don't automatically assume the town did something wrong.

"We are concerned the program is not compliant with the act but … there is no [allegation] of malicious behaviour or anything like that. That is not the nature of what is happening here."

Despite the ability to buy the body cameras online, Harvey said, it's not as easy as strapping them on and recording. Rather, there's a careful and deliberate process that needs to be followed to protect people's privacy. 

CBC News has asked the Town of Happy Valley-Goose Bay for comment on the investigation and is awaiting a response. 

In October the town revealed confrontations between municipal officers and residents, pointing to body cameras as a way to ensure any incidents are recorded as they happen.

"By doing this, it protects our workers and it protects the people," Mayor Wally Andersen told CBC's Labrador Morning at the time.

There are only a handful of police agencies in Canada that use body cameras.

Harvey said they tend to be used in larger centres, where the municipality has the capacity to thoroughly develop a policy. 

"I am not saying the Town of Happy Valley-Goose Bay can't do this," he said. "I am just saying that you really need to be careful."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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