On Tuesday, August 18, the Toronto Police Service Board approved the purchase of 2350 body worn cameras (BWC) for its front line officers. The board also passed a motion directing the Toronto Police Service (TPS) to consult with the IPC on accountability and privacy measures to be included in its BWC Policy and directing the Chief of Police not to fully deploy BWCs until after the board approves such Policy and related procedures.
The board’s decision to approve the purchase of BWCs comes at a critical juncture in policing. Recent civilian deaths in both Canada and the United States demonstrate the importance of collecting accurate recordings that document police-civilian encounters. The public deserves, and expects, to receive accurate and timely information about these encounters.
While my office recognizes the potential value of implementing BWC systems, we have also consistently called for a strong governance framework to ensure that the public’s needs for transparency and accountability are met, while also respecting their reasonable expectation of privacy.
In my August 17 submission to the board, I advised the board that I did not object to the board’s approval of the purchase and deployment of BWC equipment, on condition that:
- the selected vendor and equipment are capable of supporting the TPS’ ability to comply with the various privacy and security requirements under Ontario’s access and privacy laws;
- the board and the TPS continue to work with the IPC to ensure that the necessary accountability, transparency, and privacy governance framework is in place; and
- officers are trained on this governance framework well before BWCs are widely deployed in Toronto.
Our recommendations to the board and the TPS are based on our previous recommendations related to the TPS’ BWC Pilot Project of 2014-2016, and our more detailed comments on the Privacy Impact Assessment of the full BWC Program in June 2020. They are also founded on work the IPC has done with other Canadian privacy commissioners in developing the Guidance for the Use of Body-Worn Cameras by Law Enforcement Authorities.
I look forward to our continued work with the board and the TPS as they develop a governance framework for the BWC program that will ensure responsible implementation of BWCs. With the appropriate guardrails in place, BWCs can help strengthen transparency and accountability, while also respecting the privacy of innocent passers-by or family members whose images may be incidentally recorded. While BWCs cannot solve all the current issues at the heart of police-community relations, they can — if used fairly and appropriately — help earn police legitimacy in the eyes of citizens and public trust in the officers whose job it is to protect all of us.