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Thursday, May 4, 2017

Uniacke Square security cameras slammed as invasion of privacy

Residents and community advocates strongly opposed to housing authority’s plans for new surveillance system.

Posted By on Thu, May 4, 2017 at 11:02 PM

click to enlarge Josh Creighton and Kyturera Jones are both members of the North-End Community Action Committee. - THE COAST
  • THE COAST
  • Josh Creighton and Kyturera Jones are both members of the North-End Community Action Committee.

There are far better ways to improve standards of living in Uniacke Square than throwing up dehumanizing security cameras.

So says Josh Creighton, who used to live in the public housing community. He calls plans to install a new surveillance system in the area an invasion of privacy, and proof of the wide disconnect between the Metro Regional Housing Authority (MRHA) and its tenants.

“The number of complaints [MRHA] has received about the standard of living in Uniacke Square, and they haven’t done anything to address those issues,” he says. “But they have money for surveillance cameras? It’s just crazy.”

On Wednesday, the MRHA issued a request for proposals to supply eight closed-circuit security cameras on streets within the north-end community.

Department of Community Services spokesperson Heather Fairbairn says the CCTV system is an attempt to address ongoing problems with unauthorized parking and illegal garbage dumping.

Those complaints peaked during the winter parking ban. At the time, the housing authority hired a security company to monitor and restrict access to only authorized vehicles. But that option’s apparently not financially sustainable in the long-term.

Hence the cameras.
“While MRHA works with the Halifax Regional Police department to support its efforts in the community, our primary focus is addressing the needs of our residents and responding to the issues of unauthorized parking and garbage disposal that they have brought to our attention,” writes Fairbairn in an email.

Stop The Violence organizer Quentrel Provo says the official explanation is just a smokescreen.



“There’s been garbage and parking [problems] in all sorts of communities,” he says, “and are the cameras going up?”

While it's true police patrols and security guards come with their own set of problems, those problems have a face. Security cameras don't even offer that small bit of humanity.

“It’s not only an invasion of privacy, but it’s going to result in the community having an even more apathetic attitude towards the housing authority,” says Creighton.

In an editorial written this past winter, Nova Scotia privacy commissioner Catherine Tully called the unwarranted surveillance of law-abiding citizens a worrying trend that’s increasing across the province.

“Video surveillance is a highly privacy-invasive activity because, while it may record evidence of crimes, we can be sure that it captures the personal information of law-abiding individuals going about their everyday activities.”


More bluntly, Creighton calls the cameras dehumanizing. They are an unknown authority staring down, unblinking, at a largely-Black neighbourhood that’s historically been disenfranchised.

“It’s like animals in a zoo, in a cage,” says Provo. “You’re putting up these cameras to watch humans, like they’re not even human.”

Kyturera Jones, a current resident of Uniacke Square, wonders why the MRHA is suddenly so concerned about its residents—and if there aren't better ways it could be investing in the community.

“They don’t upkeep their units,” she says. “If they’re worried about our safety, they should come full-force about that.”

Creighton and Jones are both members of the North-End Community Action Committee; an organization of local young people who came together earlier this year to oppose gentrification.

They are both acutely aware of the problems in their neighbourhood. And this? This is not a solution.
Area councillor Lindell Smith says news of the extra security came as a surprise to the municipality.

“There was not really communication between HRM and the province,” he says.

In a statement posted on his website, Smith explains that the cameras are solely a provincial initiative, and not connected with ongoing work he’s involved in as part of HRM’s Safer Community Strategic Plan.


Still, a heads-up might have been nice.

“Not taking anything away from the province, but for us, next time, let us know so we can work together on something.”

According to the councillor, prior CCTV cameras in Uniacke Square were taken out years ago after a reassessment of safety strategies.

Halifax Regional Police still maintain security cameras at the department’s community office on Olympic Court—across the street from Cragg Avenue, where the new cameras are to be installed.

Cragg was also the location where Terrance “Terry” Izzard, 58, was killed last fall. It was one of 12 homicides in HRM in 2016 and the only one that occurred inside Uniacke Square.

In response to that violence, Smith and Souls Strong manager DeRico Symonds have hosted three public engagement sessions over the past several months. The councillor says he’s also hand-delivered information flyers in Uniacke Square and Mulgrave Park, hoping to garner feedback as part of developing the municipality’s safer communities plan.

“We don’t want residents to think this is part of what we discussed,” Smith says about the new CCTV system. “We understand that cameras are not something the community welcomes as a safety measure.”

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