During Monday's virtual meeting of Council, a motion was brought forward by Councillor Harley Greenfield seeking a report from staff focused on the implications of installing security cameras along the Bayfield Street waterfront in hopes of solving an ongoing issue of reported bad behaviour by some members of the fishing community. I understand the need to solve the problem, but I don't think that security cameras are the answer.
We live in an era of mass surveillance. Even in smalltown Meaford our movements are recorded by cameras in many places, often without us even realizing it. There are cameras in banks and retail stores, there are street cameras, and tiny cameras at every bank machine we use. These days many residential homes have security cameras too. Surveillance cameras are everywhere, and while there is an argument to be made that the ship has long sailed when it comes to our privacy, so what's the harm in a few more cameras, I'd counter that a handful of cameras along with the required notification signage would not be a good look along our waterfront, particularly for visitors to this community who we count on for their tourism dollars.
Issues between residents of Bayfield Street and members of the angling community have been before council a number of times over the past few years, and nothing the municipality or the police have done seems to have helped the situation, and the complaints continue.
Security cameras, no matter where they are used, invade our privacy to a certain degree, but I think most of us have come to accept that in certain places they make some amount of sense. Businesses hoping to reduce theft, and to capture those who might shoplift, is a use of cameras that most of us understand and accept. But do we want security cameras looking down upon us while we are enjoying a view of the bay while spread out on a picnic blanket with the family? Do we want security cameras watching us as we take the dog for a walk along the waterfront? I don't think most of us want that; most of us draw a line at some point when it comes to giving up our privacy.
The municipal Clerk told council that it would be time-consuming for the municipality's limited bylaw enforcement resources to address the situation. He told council that it would require a 'stake-out' of sorts that would allow bylaw enforcement to see the concerns first-hand.
I say that is a better alternative than spying on us with cameras. If there is a problem at the waterfront, let's assign a bylaw enforcement officer to walk the waterfront beat at regular intervals – their presence alone might be enough to dissuade any untoward activity.
That it would require more bylaw enforcement resources seems a better alternative, and would likely cost less than the installation and monitoring of security cameras, and even if it were to be more costly, I think that both residents and visitors to this community would be far more comfortable seeing a uniformed bylaw enforcement officer walking the beat than they would seeing signs all over the waterfront warning that they are under surveillance. At least you can have a chat and say hello to the bylaw enforcement officer, and your movements as innocent as they may be won't be recorded and banked on a server that could be exploited by bad actors at any time.
As council debated the motion (which, to be clear, sought a report on the legal, privacy, technical and financial implications of installing cameras along the waterfront. The motion didn't seek immediate installation, but rather a report from staff about the potential benefits along with the potential issues that could present themselves should cameras be installed), I tried to envision our waterfront parkland with signs warning of surveillance cameras, and it certainly didn't give me a feeling of calm, as a visit to our waterfront should do. Rather it made me feel like we were fully losing the privacy battle when we can't even visit a park without our movements being recorded.
Some argue that if you are doing nothing wrong, then you shouldn't be concerned about cameras watching you, but I disagree – you don't have to be doing anything untoward in order to value your privacy.
If there are problems to be addressed at our waterfront parkland, send a bylaw enforcement officer to spend some time in the area, show a presence, and monitor. If it requires additional funding, let's put that proposal before Council, as I think many would much rather invest in increased capacity for bylaw enforcement than they would in yet more cameras to spy on us all.