With new cameras, are we enabling facial recognition in the City of Windsor?

These are questions that activist Mariame Kaba regularly asks herself when she is outraged about injustice [ht]:

  •     What resources exist so I can better educate myself?
  •     Who’s already doing work around this injustice?
  •     Do I have the capacity to offer concrete support & help to them?
  •     How can I be constructive?

In this spirit, I’m going to dedicate one hour of today to look into the plan from the City of Windsor to use about $450,000 of that total to upgrade its camera technology from analog to digital, and look at installing new cameras across the city. I’m not so much outraged as concerned about surveillance cameras downtown. I’m worried that we are building an infrastructure that will support facial recognition in the city of Windsor.

What resources exist so I can better educate myself?

Mayor Drew Dilkens tells CTV News he believes the benefits are two-fold. He notes many of the cameras will be linked to the police communication centre, and it will allow the dispatcher to assess the scene before calling in officers. “If they see that it’s an issue involving 20 people, well then that provides and warrants a different response than if it’s one or two people,” says Dilkens. Dilkens adds the cameras will also allow for better traffic management. He says the initial focus of the new cameras, if approved, would be in the downtown core.

Windsor looking to install more surveillance cameras, Windsor CTV News, Bob Bellacicco, CTV Windsor News Reporter, Published Friday, September 20, 2019.

According to the Windsor Star, “there are currently 13 municipally operated surveillance cameras in Windsor’s urban core. Another 20 cameras are to be added soon”. Those interviewed also say the cameras are there for deterrence.

The money is coming from a one-time funding from the Federal Government.

The federal Gas Tax Fund (GTF) is a permanent source of funding provided up front, twice-a-year, to provinces and territories, who in turn flow this funding to their municipalities to support local infrastructure priorities. Municipalities can pool, bank and borrow against this funding, providing significant financial flexibility.

The federal Gas Tax Fund delivers over $2 billion every year to 3600 communities across the country. In recent years the funding has supported approximately 4000 projects each year. Communities select how best to direct the funds with the flexibility to make strategic investments across the following 18 different project categories:

public transit
wastewater infrastructure
drinking water
solid waste management
community energy systems
local roads and bridges
capacity building
local and regional airports
short-line rail
short-sea shipping
disaster mitigation
broadband and connectivity
brownfield redevelopment

According to CTV and the Windsor Star, the matter of funding will come to City Council today. From item 7.2 in the Agenda as a matter of information.

THAT City Council RECEIVE FOR INFORMATION the amended 2019 approved Capital Budget inclusive of changes stemming from the formal announcement of the Federal Gas Tax one-time top-up payment and the Disaster Mitigation Adaptation Fund (DMAF) grant announcement….

Security Cameras Downtown:
This funding would be for the installation of cameras, which would enhance security in the downtown area and as well, provide benefits relative to traffic management.

That’s about 25 words and not a lot of information to go on. I particularly want to know more about what going from analog to digital means from the reporting of this story. I seriously doubt the police were developing film for their photos previously. So what do they really mean about this transition?


I believe that the City of Windsor could better spend a half-million dollars in our community than deploying cameras. I don’t see any evidence that suggests the addition of cameras will prevent the petty crimes by those addicted to opioids. Windsor Police already has a budget of $89 million and in 2018, budgeted for a 6% increase of funding. I think there are many other needs that the City of Windsor could apply the funding to that would result in a much greater return on investment for the city. For one, the Federal Gas Tax could go towards Transit Windsor which has already made it’s case that it requires significant re-investment.

But there are other matters of concern. How are these cameras going to be employed in the future? My big question is this: is this system of cameras going to enable facial recognition? Will we be informed if the police of Windsor start engaging in the practice? How can citizens with concerns in regards to surveillance be assured that fair practices are in place when other Ontario police boards don’t believe that they have to reveal their surveillance practices, “citing a provision of the law that allows an institution to withhold information that could “reveal investigative techniques and procedures currently in use or likely to be used in law enforcement.”

Who’s already doing work around this injustice?

From a cursory search on the Internet, it appears that matter of regulating technology used by police have been handled by the courts and lawyers:

“We have recognized for some time now that new technologies have the potential to eviscerate privacy rights. Government has abdicated its important role to police the police. Almost every new protection has been a result of the courts making rules. That is not an effective way to develop broad-based policy,” says Hasan. Relying on individuals who have had privacy rights infringed, especially those who were not targets of a criminal investigation, is unrealistic, he adds.

“The new surveillance state: Police can capture an astronomical amount of information through new technologies, and privacy lawyers say there is little oversight or accountability”. Canadian Lawyer, By Shannon Kari, 02 Oct 2017

Cities across the United States are currently investing in facial recognition systems, like in Detroit. Other cities, such as San Francisco, are banning the use of facial recognition. The tech is already being employed by police in Toronto and its use was recently debated in Montreal.

I’m now looking into the work of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. and their advocacy in banning the use of facial recognition software by cities.