Category Archives: Blog

Ombudsperson Pans Incapability Assessments

Even when you already know them, sometimes it’s shocking to hear facts confirmed. In February, BC Ombudsperson Kim Carter released her 186-page investigation into BC’s processes for determining people to be “incapable” of controlling their own legal or financial affairs, “No Longer Your Decision.” Focus has reported extensively on the arbitrary, draconian, often self-serving ways by which citizens are being stripped of these basic rights by long-term care providers, health authorities, and the public guardian. Carter concluded the process has indeed been “failing to meet the requirements of a fair and reasonable procedure.”

Indeed, on nearly every key issue, the Ombudsperson’s findings disturbingly reflected many people’s worst experiences and reinforced the worst fears of the rest of us. For starters, there’s no definition of “incapability,” even though authorities are using the concept daily to take away people’s rights to make their own decisions. BC law, Carter clarified, “does not define what it means for an adult to be incapable or establish any criteria or test for this determination. Neither the Public Guardian and Trustee nor the health authorities have defined what incapable means.”

As for the assessment process through which authorities can declare you to be incapable, that’s a free-for-all, too. BC law “does not set out a process to be followed…does not require that an assessment or opinion from a physician be obtained…does [not] establish any standards for such an assessment…does not require that the [assessor] knows the adult and has examined the adult recently…” And to top it off, most health authority staff admitted to Carter that they had no special training in conducting incapability assessments, and the health authorities admitted they provide no such training.

Carter further found that there are no requirements for health care providers or the public guardian to even notify you or your family that your incapability is being assessed, let alone to explain their reasons for concluding you’re incapable or give you any opportunity to respond.

Carter recommended that the Ministry of Justice at least create steps allowing you to legally challenge a health authority’s or public guardian’s conclusion that you are incapable. The BC Justice Ministry promised only to “review” this final recommendation; however, most of the Ombudsperson’s recommendations on the other issues were accepted by government and will supposedly be in force by July 1, 2014. Carter wrote that she was “cautiously optimistic.”

RCMP agrees to stop tracking innocent drivers

Victoria Police Department (VicPD) media rep Cst. Mike Russell dismissed critics of the automatic licence plate recognition (ALPR) program on CFAX in January. Russell said, “There’s conspiracy theorists out there saying we’re creating a massive surveillance database on people…”

“You mean you’re not?” said fill-in host Rosa Harris-Adler, as both she and Russell chuckled.

“Funny enough we’re not doing that,” said Russell. He described it as merely a “technicality” that VicPD had been recording and passing data about all drivers to the RCMP “for deletion.”

We’re not sure who those wacky conspiracy theorists are, but we understand how they became, er, “confused.” There are already millions of records in the police’s ALPR database. And while Russell may have meant to simply suggest that the database doesn’t include records of the movements of most innocent drivers, well, the BC government and RCMP admitted the ALPR program was indeed collecting such records from 2006-2009 until the federal privacy commissioner complained to parliament. And since then, both RCMP reps and Russell’s boss, VicPD Chief Jamie Graham, have gone on the record numerous times saying their hope was to start building exactly such a mass surveillance database of the movements of all vehicles again, as soon as they’d gathered publicly-persuasive arguments for the policing value of keeping such records.

Nevertheless, Russell’s misleading mocking may be moot. VicPD, with the help of the RCMP who administer BC’s ALPR program, has finally agreed to implement our provincial Privacy Commissioner’s recommendations and stop performing that illegal “technicality.” However, as Focus noted in a January 2013 report, there’s been a concerning silence amongst BC’s federal RCMP detachments and RCMP-managed Integrated Road Safety Units as to whether they would voluntarily comply with provincial privacy law. In a recent email to Focus, RCMP Spt. Denis Boucher cleared up the matter. We asked if the RCMP intended to stop all ALPR cruisers around BC from collecting data on most innocent drivers. Boucher replied, “The intent is to implement the solution across the board.”

If we can trust our police, this battle to protect BC from moving a step closer to becoming a surveillance state has been won. Take a conspiracy theorist to dinner?

 

Forced Psychiatric Treatment and Electroshock in BC – Statistics

After a lot of effort, I’ve managed to get some statistics from the British Columbia Ministry of Health, and want to share them with researchers, activists and journalists.

Here are the numbers of British Columbians certified (usually meaning they were incarcerated and forcibly treated with drugs or electroshock) under the Mental Health Act in BC from 2002 to 2011, broken down by health regions: BC Forced Treatment Stats. Note that the real numbers are undoubtedly much higher, because certifying someone is a simple procedure of filling out a one-page form, and psychiatrists often need simply threaten to certify someone in order to gain the person’s compliance with confinement and treatment.

And here are the numbers of British Columbians subjected to electro-convulsive therapy (ECT, or electroshock) covering the years 1992-2012: BC ECT rates 1992-2012.

And here are the numbers for ECT in the Vancouver Island Health Authority region, including breakdowns by age and gender: VIHA Summary of ECT Stats by Site.

 

Lobbyist Registrar Investigating BC Police Chiefs

I recently investigated two sister groups, the BC Association of Municipal Chiefs of Police and the BC Association of Chiefs of Police. I found that both groups are playing a shellgame with the law: On the one hand, they’re claiming they are “private groups” whose activities are not subject to BC’s freedom of information laws covering public bodies. On the other hand, they are operating these “private groups” out of their police departments using police staff and public police resources. (Read the article to see how much more complicated and dubious their shellgames become when I try to obtain even basic documentation about their groups.) And even though they spend a lot of time meeting with politicians and bureaucrats and helping craft legislation and lobby for laws, they also think they don’t need to be legally registered as a lobby group because they’re just doing all this as part of their normal day to day policing duties.

At the end of that article, I explained that I had submitted complaints to both the Lobbyist Registry and the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner, arguing that these police chief groups were either public bodies subject to laws covering public bodies, or private groups subject to laws covering private groups — they could not escape being either. One way or another, I argued, our police chiefs have to be subject to at least some laws of transparency and accountability like the rest of our society.

The OIPC is investigating. And now, in a recent email to me, the Lobbyist Registrar has deemed these concerns to be valid enough to warrant an investigation as well. Here is the full text of the email from the Lobbyist Registrar:

Dear Rob Wipond:

This is to acknowledge receipt of your complaint under the BC Lobbyists Registration Act (“LRA”) that the Association of Chiefs of Police may be engaging in activities that qualify as lobbying and have not registered as required by the LRA.

I attach for your reference our policy in respect of complaints.

Requesting the Registrar Conduct an Investigation

7.1 Where a person requests the Registrar to conduct an investigation to establish whether there is or has been compliance with this Act, the requester will be expected to provide the registrar with the name and address of the subject of the allegation and a description of the facts that are alleged to constitute a violation of the LRA.
7.2 If no investigation is commenced as a result of the request, and the request for investigation has not otherwise been made public, the identity of the requester will be kept confidential.
7.3 If an investigation is commenced as a result of the request, the identity of the person requesting the investigation may be disclosed to the person under investigation, to the extent that it is necessary to conduct the investigation and adhere to the principles of procedural fairness.
7.4 Despite paragraph 8.3, the registrar may direct that the identity of the person requesting the investigation, and any information disclosed by that person, be kept confidential to the exclusion of any other person including the person directly affected, on terms the registrar considers necessary, if the registrar believes that direction is necessary to ensure the proper administration of the Act, including the protecting that person from physical or other harm.
7.5 A person who requests an investigation has no rights to notice or information during the investigation, and has no greater procedural rights in an investigation or subsequent hearing than any member of the public.

Please be advised that we have not disclosed your identity to the Association of Chiefs of Police, however, given the public nature of this complaint, it is not our intention to keep your identity secret, unless you can provide reasons otherwise.

In response to your complaint, we have commenced an investigation under section 7.1 of the LRA, which states that if it is considered necessary to establish whether there is or has been compliance by any person with the LRA or the regulations, the Registrar may conduct an investigation.  You will be notified of our findings in respect of your complaint.
Yours truly,
Mary Carlson
Deputy Registrar of Lobbyists for British Columbia
Website www.lobbyistsregistrar.bc.ca

Researchers Encouraged by BC Privacy Commissioner’s Investigation Report

For Immediate Release
November 15, 2012

Researchers Encouraged by BC Privacy Commissioner’s Investigation Report

The three researchers whose report prompted the BC Privacy Commissioner’s investigation into Automatic License Plate Recognition (ALPR) are very encouraged by the findings of Elizabeth Denham’s report, released today.

Since 2006, the RCMP and a growing number of BC police forces have used cruiser-mounted automated camera systems to ubiquitously take pictures of BC vehicles’ licence plates. Ostensibly used for catching stolen vehicles and unlicensed drivers, the researchers found that the ALPR system had “function creeped” into many more, highly questionable uses. As a result of concerns raised by the researchers, the Commissioner investigated how Victoria Police have been using ALPR. Her findings validate the concerns that the researchers’ have raised to the Commissioner, to police, and to the public, especially in relation to the technology functioning as a massive public surveillance system.

Amongst other findings, the Privacy Commissioner determined that Victoria Police were:

  • improperly collecting personal information in many circumstances
  • compiling information about the movements of too wide a range of people, many innocent of any crimes, including parents with legal custody of children, individuals who have attempted suicide in the past, and individuals prohibited from operating a boat
  • improperly disclosing and sharing personal information with the RCMP
  • misleading to the public when suggesting that any Canadian privacy commissioner has approved an ALPR system in Canada

She recommended that the Victoria Police Department immediately modify their ALPR program to bring it into compliance with BC’s privacy legislation. For example, the department must:

  • amend the composition of their surveillance categories to include only information that is related to a legitimate law enforcement purpose
  • work with the Ministry of Justice to inform the public of the full scope of the ALPR program
  • configure the program so that innocent individuals’ personal information is deleted automatically

Not all the researchers concerns have been addressed yet, however. For example, neither issues concerning the overall inaccuracy of the ALPR system nor whether data is still retained on too many people have been addressed. While Commissioner Denham has determined what is legal, it is now up to the public to establish whether this type of police surveillance is right.

The researchers conclude: “This is a great day for British Columbians who value privacy, freedom of association and movement, and their right to be free of unwarranted government surveillance. The rule of law has prevailed, and we trust that our police and government will obey it moving forward.”

***********

Reseachers’ Contact Information:

Rob Wipond
(250) 388-6064
rob (at) robwipond-dot-com

Kevin McArthur
kevin@stormtide.ca

Christopher Parsons
(778) 977-5653
parsons@uvic.ca

Previous articles from the reseachers’ work examining ALPR can be found here.

The Privacy Commissioner’s press release is here. The full report is here.