Cornwall city council will soon receive a report regarding the feasibility of a bylaw regulating surveillance equipment on residential properties. If adopted, the city would be one of the only municipalities in the country with such a bylaw.
The request was made by Coun. Todd Bennett who, along with a handful of other elected officials, received emails from a Cornwall resident who is currently faced with an issue stemming from a surveillance camera on his neighbour’s property.
“The email I received from a resident contained a couple pictures in it,” he said. “His neighbour has a camera put up on a pole and it’s turned directly on his backyard. He called police and bylaw to see if there is anything that could be done and both told him that there was nothing that they could do about it, because there are no laws in place in regards to private citizens with surveillance equipment.”
According to the email received, the resident’s daughters are now scared to venture within the family’s backyard, for fear of being watched. After also reaching out to the Cornwall Police Service (CPS) Bennett was told unfortunately nothing could be done.
“If you’re a business or an organization, there are very strict laws regarding what you can do with surveillance equipment,” he said. “But when it comes to a private citizen, there’s really nothing. There are only two things that can be used to charge a citizen and that’s if voyeurism or harassment is being perpetuated.
“The sad thing is that this resident decided to build some lattice up on his fence to fix the issue but it turns out that you can’t have lattice that high, so he had to take it down.”
Bennett said his research revealed there are currently no bylaws relating to surveillance equipment on a resident’s property anywhere in the province.
“I don’t know what this bylaw would look like,” he said. “I just know that there has to be something we can do to protect somebody’s own property from being — for lack of a better term — spied on.”
Although Bennett admitted he wasn’t sure as to what the report would contain, he did say he hoped to be presented with practical solutions. According to him, the issue the resident faces will come up more often in the future, as surveillance equipment becomes increasingly available to residents.
“You should be able to enjoy your own backyard property without any fears,” he said. “I know this isn’t going to be easy — we will most likely be the only municipality in Ontario or even Canada to have this bylaw — but it has to start somewhere.”
Council agreed with Bennett and unanimously supported his request.
“You should be able to enjoy the privacy of your backyard without having someone watching you for whatever reason,” said Coun. Dean Hollingsworth. “What is interesting is that I can’t park a trailer in my driveway, but I am allowed to film my neighbour. I don’t know what kind of rulebook you play by, but that seems grossly and philosophically flawed.”
According to chief administrative officer Maureen Adams, several departments, such as the bylaw division and CPS, will be asked to contribute to the report.
“We will also have to engage legal counsel to look at this,” she said.