City examines regulating use of home surveillance cameras

Home surveillance cameras have proven very useful in helping solve crimes, but some Torontonians are worried about what they mean for their privacy. Faiza Amin with what the city can do to find a balance.

By Faiza Amin, Victoria Revay

At least two city councillors have raised questions about home surveillance cameras and have asked the City’s Municipal Licensing and Standards division to look into regulating their use.

Etobicoke-Lakeshore councillor Mark Grimes says he was compelled to act after a number of his constituents complained that they felt their privacy was being compromised when it came to cameras pointed at their homes.

He joined North York councillor Anthony Perruzza in filing a motion at the beginning of the month asking the city to look into the matter as part of an overall review of the Property Standards bylaw.

“When it comes a privacy issue, it concerns a lot of people,” he told CityNews.

One of those people concerned enough to hire a lawyer about an ongoing dispute is Paul Linton, a business owner in Grimes’ riding. His home now resembles what looks like a makeshift fortress, all in an effort to protect his privacy from his neighbour’s camera.

He has erected large poles with tarps over them that are supposed to shield his home, as he believes the cameras are aimed too much towards his windows and his kids’ bedroom windows. He says when he first noticed the cameras directly pointing at his home, he called 3-1-1, but they told him there was nothing they could do as there is no current law that would prohibit his neighbour from putting up the devices. He then called police who told him the same thing. This is when he took matters into his own hands.

“I was surprised that bylaws haven’t kept up with technology and we have to be proactive about the invasion of our privacy,” he says. “This is one aspect of your home life. Cameras are everywhere in this day and age, but we should have some spaces of privacy. In my home and my backyard, we shouldn’t be filmed.”

Across the GTHA, Hamilton and Burlington have had bylaws in place around residential surveillance since the early 2000s. Those regulations are focused on allowing law enforcement to constraint some organized criminal activity.

This video was taken by Amanda Ly who submitted this to CityNews after we asked our viewers what the craziest thing was that their home security cameras captured. Submit your videos to us on our Facebook page.

A motivation different from Grimes’ objective. Grimes says while he believes people should be able to use private home cameras, he thinks possibly a “backyard camera ban,” or at least being able to build measures to try and shield these cameras, like higher fences, should be considered.

Molly Reynolds, a lawyer at Tory’s in downtown Toronto says what governments need to focus on is what the objective of allowing residents to have a surveillance camera is and making sure the scope of the surveillance is tied to that objective.

“It’s an interesting gap right now because we don’t actually have any laws at any level of government that regulate what individuals can do with surveillance cameras on their properties,” she says. “And because there isn’t a law right now, people don’t know what the guidance is… so it is a good thing for city councils to be looking at in terms of how to give the right guidance and raise the right awareness to people who may want to install security camera in terms of how broad can the scope of the footage be and what you can do with that information and where can you point the cameras.”

CityNews reached out to the City of Toronto for comment. Municipal Licensing and Standards say it has not considered it yet, but will be reviewing the request as part of their work on Chapter 629, Property Standards. The report is expected back in the fall of 2020.

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