March 2012 letters

Re: Hidden surveillance, Feb 2012

Am I the only person who had alarm bells with Rob Wipond’s article on surveillance? Combine this vehicle surveillance with the “communication devices” we will soon have on our homes (Smart Meters), the soon-to-be BC Identity Card, internet providers giving us updated wireless devices, and we have something frightening going on. Do the government and the police think we are stupid? There is no doubt in my mind that everything about us will soon be known to these agencies. Everything. The computers for these agencies will be “talking to each other” and gathering data about all of us. The days of privacy are soon to be a thing of the past unless we rise up and do something about it. Great article, Rob.

Lia Fraser


I wonder how Rob Wipond will react when Canada begins buying unmanned drones like the ones being operated along the 49th parallel by the DEA/Homeland Security?

Nevertheless, I congratulate him and Focus, for bringing toxic sludge like this to the surface, in an attempt to shake us out of our somnambulant state regarding all things governmental.

Richard Weatherill


Thank you for the investigative reporting and seeing that accountability is being kept in place with your article on ALPR.

I’m also interested in a tangential item to stay on the radar for accountability. There has been a trend toward using cameras for traffic light sensors, to replace the buried inductive loops at intersections. The loops are failure prone and need to be replaced every few years when repaving happens, hence the shift to visual camera detection which pays off after a couple loop re-installs have been avoided.

They’ve sprung up all over the lower mainland. I was curious about them and made some inquiries through the City of Coquitlam. The technology makes sense for what it does. However I was surprised to learn that they don’t process the sensor data at the intersection only. Each camera sends the data back to the municipal maintenance facilities.

Apparently, from time to time, the police have asked for intersection footage. Coquitlam’s traffic department claims not to archive it, and so they have turned the police away, saying the information isn’t stored and available.

It is somewhat unsettling that should that policy change in the future, or it fails to be noticed by those who keep an accountability watch, you could have location data available for a majority of cars across the lower mainland. It’s installed and ready to go but for a few municipal agreement signatures, the caveat being that the image data would still need to be processed.

Craig Bowers


Editor’s Note: See Rob Wipond’s follow-up in this edition. Also, he has posted hundreds of pages from his access to information requests about Automated Licence Plate Recognition at


Re: Alarmist distractions, Feb 2012

Thanks to Briony Penn for the excellent deconstruction about the interests behind the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline. I love how she reframed the conversation so that we all can understand that the “socialist billionaires” influencing the process are not the environmentalists but rather the Chinese. The Federal and BC governments are no longer representing our interests because they are actually owned by the Chinese government. This explains their mad rush to sell off all of our resources. 

It is up to us to stop the insanity, and we are going to have to put our money where our mouths are. I’ve written to the main groups opposing the pipeline asking them if someone will set up a fund so we can support the First Nations and other groups in the north in their front-line fight.

Jenny Farkas


Re: Limited transparency, Feb 2012

There is an old story about a man offering a woman a million dollars for sex. She agrees and when he shows up, he hands her $50. “What is this?” she asks. “What kind of woman do you take me for?”

“We know what kind of woman,” says he. “Now we are just haggling over the price.”

That comes to mind with David Broadland’s article on the price of transparency at Victoria City Hall.

The information sought by Focus is so sensitive and so crucial to be kept secret, that the City refuses to release it.

However, when it has a price tag of $1,070 attached to it, it is a different matter and the City will now readily sell it. Criteria is price in Victoria.

Why secret? Does this not affect Victorians and have we not already paid for the information?

Now you have two councillors talking to the enemy and having the gall to suggest taxpayers can be trusted with the facts. How long before they are frozen out of council and staff reports?

It is interesting that we pay spin doctors a half-million dollars a year to manipulate and massage public information which is the same amount we pay elected councillors to act as a board of directors and represent us. Instead they use their flacks to hide from us with the aid of a compliant media.

Staff and council will efficiently stifle the sham of the Alto motion for transparency. After all, the mayor has already questioned open meetings because the press may not report exactly what council wants. Heaven forefend a free press.

There is another story: Apparently, after his election victory, Stephen Harper flew to Victoria to consult with City council about how to shut down opposition. Council brought out its training manual for him and he flew back to Ottawa and promptly hired several hundred more “communications” people to ensure only group-hug news got out and the federal government now has the biggest PR department in Canadian history.

Patrick Murphy


Re: Sale of church lands

The sale to a developer, set to close on April 1, of St Albans Church and Church Hall in Oaklands, which has been designated surplus property by the Anglican Diocese of British Columbia, raises important questions for Victoria residents about property owned by religious institutions. 

Is it right that the diocesan council may sell both church and hall, even though the hall, long rented to such groups as a pre-school and a children’s dance class, is central to community life in Oaklands? Or that Victoria City Council should choose development over acquiring this largely green space and maintaining the hall and the public services it has provided? Will the City save the sequoia beside the church, probably the oldest planted tree in Oaklands, from the bulldozer? Generations of children from all over Greater Victoria have taken part in activities in the church hall and on its surrounding property. Such activities risk being prohibitively expensive or no longer available to anyone when this unique public property is no more.

Given the special tax-status of Victoria churches and the community services which they provide, are they not all a kind of public property? Should the Anglican church be able to sell any of its long-established churches and attached property on the open market? Surely such churches and halls serve as community centres for all kinds of people. 

Is it appropriate that local governments invariably promote development rather than the preservation of public space? Why not involve citizens in deciding the future use of “surplus” church property in their neighbourhoods? Does it have to be too late to do this for Oaklands?

D. Gillian Thompson