By Joe Lofaro
November 27, 2014
New security enhancements are coming to the Ottawa courthouse.
You might have noticed surveillance cameras inside the Ottawa courthouse.
You would think they record what they see in case of an emergency that requires officials to roll back the feed and investigate the footage.
Well, that’s not what I was told last month when I had my camera and umbrella stolen from outside a courtroom during an assignment.
An employee who works there told me the surveillance cameras inside the building only provide a live video feed and there is no tape to rewind, no fuzzy video to scrutinize. Nothing.
I was out of luck solving my whodunnit.
I filed a police report with a helpful and sympathetic special constable, but today I’m still without my beloved (and expensive) camera. I’m less attached to my umbrella.
I can’t really blame anyone but myself for leaving my belongings in between the double doors of courtroom 7. And I certainly don’t expect the camera to ever turn up.
But what I did expect was for someone to be able to tell me, officially, if the cameras inside the concrete fortress at 161 Elgin St. actually do record footage. Maybe the employee I spoke to was ill-informed.
No photography or video recording is permitted in courthouses in Ontario, so maybe that applies to surveillance operations, too. I wasn’t sure.
And what about the construction that’s going on in the front entrance and efforts to enhance security?
I had heard from staff that a metal detector and baggage screener are being installed there, much like you would see at an airport.
But I wanted an official to explain to me what is coming, especially after the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) released a report of a survey Wednesday that said 75 per cent of courthouse employees in Ontario believed their safety was at risk while on the job.
What ensued on Thursday was a dizzying exchange of emails between spokespeople at the Ministry of the Attorney General (MAG) and the Ottawa Police Service.
Brendan Crawley, a MAG spokesperson, said under provisions of the Police Services Act, police are responsible for security at the Ottawa courthouse, “including the appropriate level of security required for court facilities within their jurisdiction.”
My questions should be directed to them, he said.
Thursday morning, I called police and requested an interview after explaining what had happened to me.
Later that afternoon, I received an email from police spokesperson Const. Marc Soucy who told me to direct my questions to Crawley.
I told him that I had already spoken to Crawley, who said police are responsible for answering these types of questions.
Just to cover my bases, I emailed Crawley again and explained the confusing back-and-forth replies.
“These are definitely questions for the police in charge of security at the Ottawa Courthouse,” wrote Crawley in an email. “Police are responsible for staffing and operating security measures in courthouses.”
My head started to hurt.
I sent another email, this time to another media relations officer, Carole Lavigne.
Lavigne declined to do an interview about the court’s surveillance cameras and security enhancements that will be visible to the public once installed.
“If the ministry wishes to speak to those features, it is up to them. But we will not,” she said when reached by phone late Thursday.
When I asked why, she said, “It is their features and if they want to speak to them it is for (them). We are not going to be a spokesperson for the features they are installing there.”
After all the finger pointing, neither the Ministry nor Ottawa police would entertain an interview on the subject.
Maybe I was refused an interview because answers to some of those questions would compromise security operations. Maybe it was for another reason.
Whatever the reason, all I know is that when I’m at the courthouse I need to keep a closer eye on my new camera.
Commentary by the Ottawa Mens CentreWhile security measures at Ottawa Court House are long overdue, the Judiciary of Ottawa are collectively undermining the Rule of Law and bringing the administration of Justice into ill-repute by their own misconduct that makes the Fifth Floor of 161 Elgin Street akin to Criminals Club House where Fabrication of Evidence, Obstruction of Justice are all part of a days business by Ottawa's Judiciary and no one it appears gives a dam.