Diane McLeod-McKay, the territory’s information and privacy commissioner, is concerned about a proposal that could see the City of Whitehorse using drones to enforce certain bylaws. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)

Yukon privacy commissioner worried about city drone proposal

‘Now’s the time for us to be aware of this. Not when it’s too late’

Yukon’s privacy commissioner is concerned about a proposal that could see the City of Whitehorse using drones to enforce certain bylaws.

“No one can say if you’re followed around by a drone all day it’s not going to change your behaviour,” said Diane McLeod-McKay, the Yukon’s Information and Privacy Commissioner, in an interview. “And in a free and democratic society like Canada we shouldn’t have to be subject to that kind of surveillance.”

At the July 16 council meeting, one of the recommendations made was to consider purchasing a drone for use patrolling trails. Council heard that other municipalities have used drones in search and rescue, but that they could also be effective in preventing illegal dumping.

Whitehorse city council has accepted a new bylaw review document, but that doesn’t mean all of its recommendations will be implemented, said city manager Linda Rapp. She said there are six to eight bylaw officers for 700 km of trails in Whitehorse.

In a statement, McLeod-McKay noted that the city isn’t subject to the Yukon’s Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (ATIPP Act), or the federal Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA).

“The ATIPP Act gives individuals a right to access their personal information held by public bodies in Yukon, limits the personal information they may collect and how it may be used, and mandates other privacy and security measures. PIPEDA applies to personal information of municipal employees in the territories, but is unlikely to cover the personal information of others collected by City of Whitehorse drones,” reads the statement.

“Even if ATIPP or PIPEDA did apply, the lack of transparency around what a drone is recording, at any given time, hinders accountability. It’s difficult to make a complaint when you don’t know what personal information is being collected.”

Rapp said that’s all something the city would look at before implementing drone use.

She said if drones are brought in as part of bylaw enforcement, there would be rules around how video is captured, how it’s stored, and who has access to that video. She also said the city would look at what’s being done with drones in other municipalities, though she didn’t cite any specific municipalities.

Either way, Rapp said the city must first go through its upcoming budgeting process. After that, plans would be brought forward for formal approval, further budgeting, planning and numerous approvals.

“So over the next few years, we’ll be exploring the recommendations.”

She said the city went through a similar process when it installed cameras in city facilities.

“It’s the same kind of thing. You have to be clear about what is it — what issue you’re trying to address and then the rules have to be looked at around that particular issue to make sure that you’re not just randomly filming a whole bunch of things and keeping it on file.”

That’s what McLeod-McKay is concerned about. She said only a handful of people will end up being bylaw offenders, but video will be taken of a much larger section of the population.

She told the News she hadn’t heard anything about the possibility of drone use until it came out during council on July 16. She said she released her statement on the issue because she doesn’t want to wait to start talking about her concerns after drones are already in use.

“Now’s the time for us to be aware of this,” she said. “Not when it’s too late.”

Contact Amy Kenny at amy.kenny@yukon-news.com

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