Last week, VicPD Cst. David Bratzer found himself in the limelight after he was denied access to the recent proposal by the RCMP to take over Esquimalt’s policing services. That proposal was accepted by Esquimalt council, only to be overruled by the minister of justice.
The constable justified his inquiry to local media, saying, “I feel this is an appropriate time to ask ourselves, ‘Was this a transparent process?’ And the answer, in my view, is ‘no.’” While Bratzer insists that he was acting as a private citizen, one can’t help but think his employer — currently knee-deep in contract negotiations — would benefit from access to the competition’s apparently superior offer. (On Monday night, however, Esquimalt council bowed to pressure and voted in favour of releasing the proposals within 30 days.)
Bratzer’s approach seems to be characteristic of the entire Victoria Police Department, which found itself in hot water with the B.C. Privacy Commissioner last week over its newfound habit of collecting thousands of license plate numbers from innocent civilians for no particular reason.
The department is under investigation by the commissioner for its failure to address whether or not the program — which has vehicle-mounted cameras recording license plate numbers at random — complies with privacy law.
Mirroring his department’s apparent commitment to transparency, Chief Jamie Graham brushed off concerns over the new program, assuring us that “If you haven’t done anything wrong and there’s no issues, what’s to be worried about?”
This isn’t the first time VicPD has defended collecting reams of personal data. The department stood by the controversial BarWatch program while it was being investigated by the privacy commissioner for retaining personal data scanned from bar patrons’ I.D.
Unfortunately, this desire for openness appears to be limited to everyone but VicPD itself. The department refused to provide local media with the same information requested by Cst. Bratzer, and a recent report on the issues behind Esquimalt’s decision to jump ship repeatedly cited flow of information as a primary concern.
VicPD brass was also strangely silent on the topic of its current conflict with the privacy commissioner, despite Chief Graham’s previously vociferous support for its license recognition program.
It would appear that, at least when it comes to the Victoria police force and its members, transparency is a one-way street. M