Author Archives: srmcclure

If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear

We truly do live under a constant state of surveillance. In this day and age, it is impossible to make it more than a few blocks without being caught on multiple Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) Cameras. As an active Security Guard and Dispatcher, I have experience many sides of the surveillance world in Vancouver’s Downtown core. However, how much surveillance is too much surveillance? Where do we draw the line between security and privacy?

The job of a security guard is typically described as “observe and report,” and essentially, that is all there really is to the job. Security contract sites can house hundreds of cameras operational at the fingertips of one or multiple security professionals. These cameras trend from a simple, low resolution, black and white, non-moveable camera through to cameras with 360° viewing with a resolution capable of zooming in and reading a newspaper from over a football field’s distance away. With all this in mind, the general public does tend to make outrageous assumptions about possible invasions of privacy when details such as this are made public. Truth is however, technology, as good as it is, has its faults. For example, cameras with such an impeccable zoom capability, such as the camera described above, are usually placed in locations that may utilize such capabilities. These locations would include large open spaces with major foot traffic. Usually, cameras covering such large spaces are zoomed out as far as possible in order to capture the largest possible view of the space in question. Unless an individual arouses significant suspicion or is in the process of carrying out a crime that security has caught on to, these cameras are never utilized to their full capabilities. Once a recording has been captured, its picture quality is stagnant resulting in poor quality if a zoom is required on the recording. All in all, however obvious something may seem to us despite its poor quality after zooming, such video would never be accepted to stand up in court. Additionally, if a camera is zoomed out to cover a significant expanse of an area, unless the incident occurs directly in front of the camera, the recorded objects in question will also be too small and far less to detailed to be considered sufficient evidence within a court of law. In conclusion of camera quality, there is a significant tendency for people to forget just how reliable these resources are. When push comes to shove in the conviction of an individual, camera footage as evidence is more than likely to fail its ultimate test. Thus, making such “amazing” camera equipment only suitable for security-like “observe and report” cases, and not as legitimate evidence to be held up in court. Keep in mind however; it all comes down to the interpretations of a judge and jury.

Now that this myth has been somewhat quashed, we can visit the question: how much surveillance is too much surveillance? Coming from relevant security experience, I can safely say it is not a stretch of the imagination to say that an individual minding his own business, walking along a downtown street, can be watched carefully from one corner of a site to another with an expanse of several city blocks. Now imagine how many security sites exist throughout an entire city like Vancouver. What would happen to our view of privacy if one source, like the police, had direct access to live feeds and/or the recordings from all these sites combined? State of Surveillance (2014) thinks this type of environment could be just around the corner stating that police may eventually be able to track our moves, all day, everyday, without any warrants necessary. Would you consider this an invasion or your privacy or a form of spying? Section 8 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms states:

Section 8

            Everyone has the right to be secure against unreasonable search or seizure

Evidence in relation to Section 8 may be in violation of our basic rights assuming that such surveillance from a localized source constituted an unreasonable search. Additionally, the Privacy Act provides us with “a right of access to information held about [us] by the federal government…” This could be used in the argument that such mass surveillance may have to be accessible to the public if it involves them. All in all, how secure is the storage of such surveillance? And who is going to be capable of seeing it?

In conclusion, such mass surveillance may help in lowering crime and convicting offenders. However, the unreliability of the quality of cameras cannot be overstated. With this in mind, the institution of a mass surveillance source to be used by the state/police could result in more cases being overturned due to Charter violations of unreasonable searches. Is such mass surveillance worth the possible risks and rewards in Canadian law? I guess if you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to fear.


State of Surveillance: Police, Privacy and Technology


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YOA to YCJA – Applying Weber’s Typology of Law

Coming to force on April 2nd, 1984, the Young Offenders Act (YOA) was enacted to counteract the many failures in the criminal justice system under the Juvenile Delinquents Act (JDA) and the handling of young offenders, more specifically, to address the issue of offenders’ rights. Bill C-61 (what would become the YOA) experienced extensive study and debate in parliament, including the input of more than 40 separate interest groups in the molding of the Bill. With the institution of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982, many provisions of the 1908, outdated JDA were found to be ignoring the now clearly outlined legal rights guaranteed by the Charter. One of the most important changes that the Act brought about was the setting of a minimum prosecution age of twelve and a Canada-wide maximum age of seventeen.

As revolutionary as the new YOA was in comparison to the JDA, many issues were quickly raised in the following years after it’s institution. Some of the more important changes that parliament looked to apply included a more selective use of the formal justice system, a reduction on incarceration of youth and increasing the focus on reintegration of youth following custody. Simply put, the government wanted to keep young people out of the courts and correctional systems for adults. This was not only because courts and corrections were already bogged down as it is, but because the sentences and reintegration techniques used for adults had been proven to just not work for the gaping level of maturity between youth and adults.

If we look at this change from the YOA to the YCJA from a Weberian perspective, Canada’s legal system resembles that of a Formal System of Law, exhibiting both an empirical and logically rational type of formally rational law through its Common Law and Civil Law (Quebec) systems. That is, Canada’s legal system is “self-sufficient and uses internally specified rules and procedures to make decisions.” However, this change was brought into place by external factors to the laws in place, such as overuse of the court systems and overflowing correctional facilities which in turn forces the hand of the government to make a decision more in relation to that of a Substantive System of Law. The decision to take into account the Criminal Justice System’s overcrowding and overuse, as well as the maturity of the youth susceptible under the YOA is external to what is found in Canada’s Laws and plays on our ethical frameworks rather than a strictly legal-based decision. The decision was based not on an interpretation of the law in and of itself, but rather of the morality and ethics of how we punish youth deviance and what level of mental capability they are, and we are expecting them, to be operating at.

Weber also talks about the administration of power, which he defines as, “the probability that one actor within a social relationship will be in a position to carry out his or her will despite resistance, regardless of the basis on which this probability rests.” In the relationship at hand, Weber could argue that our youth are on the lower (if not the lowest) level of the social power spectrum due to their maturity and lack of legitimate social value as young, learning, immature individuals. We as adults are then responsible for effective administration of our power towards youth. By putting young persons in the same categories of criminal activity and punishment, and to be adjudicated by the same appointed individuals as more rational and deviant criminals, then can be argued as illegitimate when it comes to the power and rationality juvenile delinquents. Rather, reintegration of delinquent youth is more plausible than that of adults and can be done in a fashion that plays on the lower levels of maturity and intelligence than that of adults. Smaller forms of shaming and punishment that forces the youth to “pay back the community” in a way meaningful to his/her victims that does not stick the juvenile with a criminal record is beneficial to everyone within society and is only possible due to the power differential. Such methods would not work on more matured adults and should therefore only be applicable to those, as the YCJA states, as under seventeen years of age.

Weber would argue that this change was brought into account by the lack of power juveniles have in society compared to adults and a large differential between adult and youth maturity of action. Change then, in accordance with Weber’s theory, was administered in a substantively rational way, despite being brought about by a more formal system of law, and uses the fluctuation of adult versus youth power to make effective punishments while not criminally labeling youth the same way adults are susceptible in Canadian society.

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