Nfld. & Labrador

Cameras on school buses are an option, says N.L. privacy commissioner

Newfoundland and Labrador's privacy commissioner says there's no law against cameras on school buses, but the use must be deemed 'necessary.' A change to the Schools Act would be required.

Parents called for cameras after daughter allegedly sexually assaulted on bus

Donovan Molloy is the information and privacy commissioner for Newfoundland and Labrador. He says there is no law against cameras on school buses, but the use must be deemed 'necessary.' (Mark Quinn/CBC)

The province's privacy commissioner says the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District has the right to put cameras on school buses.

The issue of cameras on buses came up last week when CBC News reported on allegations of sexual assault on a school bus in Western Newfoundland.

"The school district has the ability to put cameras on school buses. They have lots of cameras in many schools across the province," information and privacy commissioner Donovan Molloy told CBC's Corner Brook Morning Show.

A teenaged boy has been charged and faces three counts of sexual assault in relation to incidents involving two alleged victims.

The family of one of the alleged victims — an eight-year-old girl — is calling on the school district to install cameras on school buses.

School board CEO Tony Stack has said cameras would only be considered as a "last resort" due to privacy reasons.

But Molloy says there's nothing in the law that says cameras are not allowed.

Some parents are calling for cameras on school buses after alleged sexual assaults on a school bus in Western Newfoundland. (CBC)

Try other methods first

He acknowledges the province's Schools Act requires that cameras be deemed "necessary."

And said other measures should be attempted first, such as assigned seating to separate younger and older students, and the use of student monitors, which is permitted under the law.

The monitors would be students in Grades 6 to Level 3 who are trained in bus safety.

The school district has ... lots of cameras in many schools across the province.- Donovan  Molloy

But Molloy emphasized that the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner has not forbidden the use of cameras on school buses.

"We're not out telling the school board or school district they can and can't do anything," he said.

Legislative change would ease restrictions

If parents want widespread use of cameras on all school buses in the province, Molloy said the provincial government could make it easier by changing legislation.

"The Schools Act could be amended pretty quickly if the government wants school buses all to have cameras, and then it wouldn't be an issue," said Molloy.

Ruby Hoskins is acting president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of School Councils. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

However, he cautioned that he is not advocating for such a change, because constant surveillance may do more harm than good, taking away children's sense of independence.

He also says there's little evidence that video surveillance deters bad behaviour — noting cameras are more of a tool for capturing something that's already occurred. Molloy questioned how effective one camera at the front of a bus would be.

"It has the potential to give parents and students a false sense of security," he said.

Federation of school councils wants cameras

The Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of School Councils says its efforts to get cameras on school buses go back at least a decade.

Acting president Ruby Hoskins said cameras were installed on some school buses years ago, but the idea wasn't widely adopted and fell by the wayside.

I think this is just putting another roadblock into something that's very easily done and taken care of.- Ruby Hoskins

In light of the recent alleged sexual assaults, Hoskins said it's time to have a conversation about cameras once again. If that requires a change in the Schools Act, she's all for it.

"Our Schools Act has to be enhanced and maintained almost on a yearly basis to meet the concerns and the issues that we're facing on a daily basis in our education system," said Hoskins.

She'd also like to see monitors on buses, and she's confident that parents would step forward to help out.

The family of an eight-year-old girl says she was sexually assaulted twice on a school bus, similar to the one shown in this file photo. (CBC)

"If government is saying that it's a budgetary issue, we have lots of volunteers in this province," said Hoskins.

The school district has said that volunteer bus monitors would be a liability issue, because volunteers in the school system only operate under the supervision of teachers.

But Hoskins doesn't buy that argument, and she believes there must be a way to make it happen.

"I think this is just putting another roadblock into something that's very easily done and taken care of."

Minister will respond

CBC News asked the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development for a comment on Thursday. 

On Friday, Minister Al Hawkins's office said he's not available for an interview with CBC until Monday.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

About the Author

Bernice Hillier is a host of CBC Newfoundland Morning, which airs weekday mornings across western and central Newfoundland, as well as southern Labrador.