Honourable Lisa Beare
Honourable Mike Farnworth
Honourable Jennifer Whiteside
September 21, 2021
Subject: Use of Safe Return to Schools funds by School District No 79 (Cowichan Valley)
We write today to ask for clarity from each of your Ministries with respect to the announcement made by School District No 79 Cowichan Valley (SD79) to put in place overt video surveillance on the interior and exterior of their school buses, and with respect to the broader issues that this announcement raises. This project was announced by the school district in April of this year via Facebook and was made possible by a $150,000 allocation in provincial and federal funding from the “Safe Return to Class Fund.”
Our organizations have the following concerns:
- There is a growing lack of clarity in the use of state-sponsored static video surveillance and mobile video surveillance for traffic enforcement.
- The use of mobile overt video surveillance on school buses lacks proportionality in relation to the guidance the province has given for contact tracing during COVID-19.
- The administration and management of an advanced surveillance program of this nature requires provincial oversight and guidance that addresses the privacy concerns of students, teachers, parents, and administrators.
On the use of the external cameras by law enforcement, an argument can be made this is in the public interest; however, the inconsistent application and devolved administration of these cameras is problematic and erodes our trust that their use is being governed or administered appropriately.
The Intersection Safety Camera Program is a partnership between the police, the provincial government, and ICBC. It includes clear involvement through the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General because of the implications under the Motor Vehicle Act. The program includes clear signage to notify drivers that they are being recorded and a clear process within the legal system to be notified and dispute fines. While we see SD79 enabling and using similar mechanisms to capture information from the public with the potential to subject drivers to fines, we do not see the corresponding notifications or recourse. Additionally, the lack of provincial oversight and monitoring of the use of cameras for this purpose is deeply concerning.
With respect to proportionality, the BC government through its website has provided clear guidelines for safe schools considering COVID-19. These guidelines advise that, “Schools and school districts should keep up-to-date passenger lists to share with public health if contact tracing needs to occur.” The use of internal video surveillance of the school bus does not meet this requirement, nor would it appear to be proportional to the need. In comparison to other COVID-19 priorities, such as teacher supports for personal protective equipment and upgrades to air purification systems, the allocation of these funds to install cameras inside school buses seems both unreasonable and disproportionate. It would appear to be a moral justification for the implementation and adoption of video surveillance in a situation that can create long-term impacts that are concerning.
Those long-term impacts include the normalization of state-sponsored surveillance on a youth population during a phase when their behaviors are being formed. The most recent Canadian papers on Surveillance Technologies and Children date back to 2012. More recently the State surveillance and implications for Children was published in August of 2020 through the Good Governance of Children’s Data project from the Office of Global Insight and Policy of UNICEF. There are seven key areas of reform identified in this report, all of which are important considerations that should be reflected in BC policy. In this instance, principles three and seven are of relevance and concern.
- Principle 3: Include a presumption against government surveillance of children with limited national security exceptions that are concrete, defined, and time-bound, such as enacting time restrictions for the retention of children’s data.
- Principle 7: Resist compelling individuals to use surveillance applications, programs, or systems unless validated by legitimacy, necessity, and proportionality tests.
The dynamics that mobile overt surveillance create, which are additional and unique from static overt video surveillance, has led other jurisdictions to give specific consideration to these impacts specific to school buses. Private companies creating mobile surveillance such as Google Street View are required to provide specific information and recourse for residents when their information is captured. The SD79 does not appear to be notifying the public when the cameras are recording or including accessible information for the public to understand how these records are collected, used and/or disclosed. That leaves the public with little ability to make an informed decision in response to the actions of this public body or their recourse as an individual. Without central guidance, a patchwork approach between districts could lead to issues not only for the children, parents, teachers, and administrators in the district, but for those individuals whose information may be captured when these buses travel beyond district boundaries or when buses are used to transport people from other districts.
Therefore, we are asking that each Ministry provide us with the following information and response in relation to this issue:
- What is the role of each of your Ministries in providing school districts throughout BC with a framework for managing and maintaining the overt video surveillance that is currently being collected that intersects the Freedom of Information and Privacy Protection Act the Motor vehicle Act, and the Manual of School Law K–12 in BC?
- What specific action is each Ministry taking to
Thank you and we look forward to your reply.