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News & Blog2022-05-26T06:06:00+00:00


Is Calling a Crisis Line Safe? – “Anonymous & confidential” is often a lie.

Crisis hotlines covertly trace some calls, and callers are shocked to get visited by police and incarcerated in psychiatric hospitals. Learn how, how often, and why it happens – and how to protect yourself.

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505, 2013

Numbers Guy Speaks Out

By |May 5th, 2013|

Former federal Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page exhorts Canadians to “wake up.”

Parliamentary institutions that bolster Canadian democracy “are under attack right now like I’ve never seen them before in my 35 years of public service.” The warning had a particularly sharp sting coming from recently departed federal Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page. Brought to UVic by the Green Party, Page was speaking to a packed lecture hall in April. No partisan firebrand, Page is just a lifelong bureaucrat and self-described “numbers guy” who became increasingly frustrated, then appalled, and then positively worried witnessing important national financial decisions being made “based on ideology alone” and without accountability to anyone. Read the rest at Focus online.

203, 2013

Ombudsperson Pans Incapability Assessments

By |March 2nd, 2013|

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,

203, 2013

RCMP agrees to stop tracking innocent drivers

By |March 2nd, 2013|

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

1501, 2013

Forced Psychiatric Treatment and Electroshock in BC – Statistics

By |January 15th, 2013|

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

212, 2012

Lobbyist Registrar Investigating BC Police Chiefs

By |December 2nd, 2012|

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

1511, 2012

Researchers Encouraged by BC Privacy Commissioner’s Investigation Report

By |November 15th, 2012|

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

3007, 2012

Privacy Commissioner to Review ALPR Surveillance

By |July 30th, 2012|

I’m thrilled that the BC Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner has decided to launch a full investigation into the use of Automatic Licence Plate Recognition by police in British Columbia. Here are links to all my published writings on the topic, plus my media release, and the OIPC’s press release.

Hidden Surveillance (article)
RCMP and VicPD ALPR Documents Released (documents)
Privacy Commissioner Slams Provincial Surveillance Program (Article)
What the Privacy Commissioner Really Said (Documents)
RCMP: We’ve Never Spoken About ALPR Program (Blog update)



July 30, 2012


Three independent researchers are praising the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of British Columbia (OIPC) for today’s announcement that it

2307, 2012

Let Me Tell You Why

By |July 23rd, 2012|

Someone blows up a bus or a building or a bunch of people, and then everywhere, every time, a universal, almost archetypal cry goes up asking, “Why? Why?! How could anyone do such a thing? What kind of a person would do this? Why?!” And the question is always repeated everywhere in the media, too, even as they splash the blood and guts across every screen and page: “Why?!”

And it’s an understandable question. You might ask it yourself sometime.

When soldiers in airplanes blast your neighbourhood into the stone age and everyone you know and love is mangled or killed, you might ask, “Why?”

When your child is caught under the

505, 2012

City of Vancouver CCTV Policy Documents

By |May 5th, 2012|

For interested researchers, here is the City of Vancouver’s Privacy Impact Assessment for its Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) surveillance camera systems, written in 2009. And here’s the City of Vancouver REM CCTV Policy, active as of 2012, but written in 2005. I obtained these through freedom of information requests. For more background on these documents and the contradictions they expose, see my article in Vancouver’s Georgia Straight, which also discusses the 2009 report to Vancouver Council about the CCTV project.

2503, 2012

RCMP: We’ve Never Spoken about Our ALPR Program

By |March 25th, 2012|

After eleven months of asking for “all documents of all types” about their Automatic Licence Plate Recognition vehicle surveilliance program, and four months with my complaint in process with the federal Information Commissioner, this week the RCMP Access to Information and Privacy staff finally sent me documents!!!

A handful of documents that is… Well, the RCMP had managed to get my request limited to a small number of requests for specific documents. And here’s what I finally got:

  • A copy of a report about ALPR written by several professors and already available on the internet.
  • Several letters to and from the federal Privacy Commissioner’s office, which the Privacy Commissioner’s office gave to me two months ago.
  • A 2-page “terms and conditions” document for
403, 2012

What the Privacy Commissioner Really Said

By |March 4th, 2012|

My article last month on police automatic licence plate recognition programs in BC has been read online by over 17,000 people after being featured in slashdot and elsewhere. This month I follow up with an article that recaps what happened at the Reboot Privacy and Security Conference when my co-researcher Christopher Parsons sat on a panel with Victoria Chief of Police Jamie Graham, and then I went to ask Graham a question and… It also recounts our stunning new findings: What the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada really said about the program. Indeed, you can read the full text of the OPC’s letters to the RCMP about the ALPR program yourself right here.

2402, 2012

Please Help Me Understand: What’s Weaver DOING!?

By |February 24th, 2012|

Climate scientist Andrew Weaver is fond of (rightly) lambasting the media for generally poor coverage of climate science. For the coverage of his most recent report about the oil sands, though, he has only himself to blame. I had to spend two hours studying and engaging in a back and forth with his co-author Neil Swart to figure out the real facts behind Weaver’s own sensationalist and misleading public claims about his findings.

Let’s get one thing straight, first: Climate change is clearly occurring, and Andrew Weaver is a better climate scientist than I am. He’s also a lot more famous. However, Weaver keeps wading with his opinions into areas of communications, media and politics where, in my estimation, he’s

202, 2012

RCMP & VicPD ALPR Documents Released

By |February 2nd, 2012|

My article “Hidden Surveillance”, which investigates the RCMP and Victoria Police Department’s Automatic Licence Plate Recognition (ALPR) program, has been released in the February issue of Focus magazine and is now available online here. My thanks to Kevin McArthur of Stormtide and, Christopher Parsons, along with Kris Constable of PrivaSecTech and everyone at IdeasMeetings for their help, interest, perspectives and encouragement along the way. As a supplement to the article, below are documents attained so far from my provincial Freedom of Information and federal Access to Information requests. (In the U.K., such programs are often called Automatic Number Plate Recognition, or ANPR.)

The RCMP Privacy Impact Assessment (October 2009) for its

2701, 2012

BCCLA takes a Mental Health position!

By |January 27th, 2012|

My heartfelt congratulations to the BC Civil Liberties Association for finally updating their mental health policy after 30 years!

I’ve criticized them publicly in the past for their lack of activism on the civil rights of patients, and I want to be the first one to congratulate them now. Here’s the position, written by member of the BCCLA board Dr. Muriel Groves and apparently adopted by BCCLA February, 2011, though not posted on their website until this week:

I wish they’d reviewed the Yukon’s mental health legislation as a comparison instead of Ontario’s, because the Yukon’s is even better, but this position strikes at most of the key issues:

509, 2011

A Consensus Statement on Victoria’s Economic Development Strategy

By |September 5th, 2011|

Originally posted on the website, which has been under maintenance for some time, I repost this document here for reference purposes. It was subsequently signed by 153 other people.


The City of Victoria’s recently released Economic Development Strategy emphasizes a business-as-usual approach that includes building tourism, attracting outside investment and businesses, and expanding the airport.

Yet as we write this, Centennial Square is crowded with people, inspired by a movement seeking fundamental economic changes which has spread to hundreds of cities worldwide. And for good reasons.

In recent months, the United States government has twice come within hours of financial shut-down. National debt defaults have plunged the European Union into crisis. The Canadian government has boldly proclaimed

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