Posted by: Heather Forbes | February 15, 2011

Cameras on the streets of Van-town, cameras on the streets of BC towns…

 intersection open

A couple months ago, we shared our thoughts with you on the extension of ICBC’s intersection camera program. As part of a $23 million program, 140 new cameras have been introduced to intersections around the province. The cameras have started to be installed now, and publications around the province are covering the story. The CBC published this map: showing new cameras as they are being installed, including two sites in Vancouver (Hastings and Renfrew; Knight and 49th). They also have included a pdf provided by ICBC on all the intersections that will be surveilled.

The map hasn’t been updated in a little while, because it doesn’t account for the new cameras at Main and Terminal (see photos).

The boxy surveillance systems, which carry all the baggage of dubious effectiveness and alarming infringement on the civil liberties of people moving about in public that we’ve mentioned before, are also, well, just a little bit freaky. They certainly make a stark and jarring imposition on public space, and are likely discomforting for the many people, especially those panhandling or offering squeegee services right in the intersection. These folks aren’t running red lights, but their image is still being captured by these cameras.

Have you noticed the new cameras? How do you think they affect how people treat the space around the intersections?



  1. The absence of a framework for the use of these cameras beyond traffic enforcement is indeed troubling and deserves more comment and questioning. That said, the use of cameras to record traffic violations seems fairly legitimate. Given that drivers are legally required to prominently display license plates and that operating a vehicle in the public realm is a privelege, not a right (as would be walking, or simply being, in public), it seems fine that police and ICBC record the illegal actions of drivers. If they end up being moneymakers, really, that shouldn’t be a problem either- nobody is forcing motorists to run red lights. Would it be better to have (expensive) live officers on the ground, when an automated device can be just as effective at documenting an offense? I would encourage the VSPN to avoid a knee-jerk ‘no cameras’ position, focusing instead on ensuring that stills and footage are only available for the documentation of traffic offenses.

  2. Coming originally from the UK I am very used to seeing these camera on the streets, either for catching speeding motorists to to dissuade drivers from running red lights. I therefore have to say I don’t see them as ‘freaky’. As I understand it they are targeted at intersections with high accident rates. These cameras should make those intersections safer for pedestrians and bicyclists as a result. I therefore think that, on balance, they are a good thing, with the advantages being greater than the disadvantages.

  3. Hi D, hi Tim,

    Thanks for the thoughtful comments. We’ve certainly tried to avoid knee-jerk responses to the camera issue. Our take has always been (1) that the deployment of camera technology should be as a ‘tool of last resort’ (following the position of the former BC Privacy Commissioner), and, (2) that the justification for deployment should be supported by evidence of their effectiveness. (All to often this latter point gets sacrificed because of anecdotal claims about the efficacy of the technology which isn’t supported in any substantial way). We should also note that we have gone on record acknowledging that there are specific instances where the evidence shows that cameras are effective, or at least appropriate, based on their stated objectives.

    As for whether the ICBC deployment is one of those cases… we’ll have to see! The VPSN will most certainly be interested to see the data on this, and to assess against the objectives of the program.

  4. Hi D and Tim,

    I also echo Andrew in my thanks for your thoughtful comments!

    D, you make a great final point: a standardized, transparent and accountable set of rules and regulations for the gathering, usage and storage of public images is needed. And, in short, that system doesn’t exist yet. I’m all for catching (and fining) dangerous drivers, and I’m all for doing it in the most fiscally prudent way possible, but lacking a sufficient framework of accountability, there is danger of escalation (of say, the usage, collection or sharing of the footage…).

    Tim: In Vancouver, the sight of cameras on the streets definitely hasn’t become as normalized as it has in the UK. And because it still jars most people (and freaks people like me out) we have a great opportunity in Vancouver to demand a real, considered discussion of what those cameras mean and what they’re being used for. All we want is for people to pause and think about how these cameras affect public space, and how they fit into their conception of what the city should be.

    So, big thanks to you both for doing just that! Keep the thoughtful considerations comin’!

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