Security cameras in prison toilets raise difficult questions

by | Apr 8, 2015 | News

Veronica Appia
Crime/Security Reporter

A man commits a crime and is caught on camera.

He is also naked.

Though police officers may have had the authority to record the video on a hidden camera, that doesn’t mean a judge will always permit them to use the video as evidence in court, said Glenn Hanna, a former RCMP officer and professor of Justice Studies at the University of Guelph-Humber.

But when it comes to video surveillance in jail, Ontario police officers are not willing to flush their safety concerns down the toilet, in order to grant the accused privacy.

Prisoners being held in custody are recorded at all times for safety purposes, but the question that has arisen for many Ontario police services is: when prisoners go to the washroom, how much of the video surveillance should be shown and to whom?

An impaired driving case heard in Burlington court last September is forcing law enforcers to rethink and revamp their video surveillance methods.

Aislyn Griffin argued last September that being filmed while using the toilet in an OPP Burlington detachment holding cell violated her right “to be secure against unreasonable search and seizure” under Section 8 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Her appeal of the conviction was heard and dismissed in January, but that doesn’t mean Griffin’s concerns are not igniting change.

As a result of Griffin’s case, OPP was ordered to post a sign informing people held in custody that they are being filmed and that they can request a blanket to cover themselves when using the facilities.

Hanna acknowledges that in response to this case, police services around Ontario continue to implement different privacy methods, including pixelating videos and providing a smock for the accused to wear while using the toilet.

He says while these are fairly reasonable solutions, these methods call other issues into question and can aid prisoners in harming themselves or others.

“We’re sitting here in a comfortable office talking but someone in a cell is going to have drugs or a weapon in their rectum,” he said.  “It’s tough because most of the video surveillance has been done on the recommendation of coroners’ inquests where people have died in custody in cells and there wasn’t sufficient observation.”

Henri Berube, a co-ordinator of Humber College’s Police Foundations Program and a former Peel Region police officer said, on the surface, it sounds proper and humane to give people privacy, but the challenge stems from what inmates will do with that privacy.

“The human mind is an incredible thing and boy, people can find ways of hurting themselves,” he said.