The City Walks – Is Everywhere Under Surveillance?

This spring, the theme of The City Talks is Security in the City. In the first lecture of the series, Queens University sociologist David Murakami Wood offers a comparative view of surveillance in London, Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo. This event is on January 23, 2013, at the Legacy Gallery, at 7:30. 

On the following Saturday, you are invited to join The City Walks for a discussion based walking tour that applies some of the themes of the lecture to Victoria’s urban landscape. Using our collective knowledge and observing our urban environment, we’ll discuss how Victoria’s surveillance culture compares with the global cities that Murakami Wood discusses in his lecture. Is Victoria’s culture of surveillance most similar to London, Rio or Tokyo? In what ways is it different? What are the most important local surveillance issues and what should we do about them?

Here are the details:

Where to Meet: Outside the Victoria Police Headquarters, 850 Caledonia Ave.
Date: February 1, 2013
Time: 10:00 am to 12:00 pm

Here’s a map of the sites we’ll visit and the route we’ll take:

Below is a list of the sites we’ll visit and some of the questions we’ll discuss. For some of the sites, I’ve suggested a couple of readings and/or linked to some videos that raise issues for discussion at each site. (I’ve summarized some of the most important readings in a separate post.) While it’s not necessary to read or view any of them in order to participate in the tour, it might enhance your knowledge about surveillance issues and help to facilitate a more fulsome discussion.

Victoria Police HeadquartersVictoria Police Headquarters

Automated Licence Plate Recognition (ALPR) “represents a change-step in law enforcement practice, facilitating some degree of ‘dragnet’ policing. The ability of police agencies in liberal democracies to implement such a significant shift in police tactics without public consultation or debate – hence without informed public consent – is frightening indeed” (Derby, 171).

  • What do you know about the Victoria Police Department’s use of Automated Licence Plate Recognition?
  • Do you agree with the idea that if you’re doing nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear? Can you think of situations in which you would not want a record kept of your movements around the city?
  • Can you think of ways in which use of ALPR might expand beyond law enforcement and suffer from “function creep”?

Suggested reading:

900-Block Pandora900 Block Pandora

“Access to public space for homeless people is increasingly under threat as city authorities
and some national governments impose restrictions on access for certain categories of
people” (Doherty et al., 292).

  • In what ways does the streetscape in this block facilitate surveillance and policing? What kinds of surveillance is this space subject to?
  • How does our society decide what kinds of people and places should be subject to surveillance? What kinds of crime does the surveillance here miss?
  • What effects might this kind of surveillance have?

Suggested reading:

Centennial SquareCentennial Square

“Conventional CCTV cameras, with their recognizable housings and prominent public placement, are becoming almost invisible through their ubiquity in contemporary urban landscapes. The much-reduced size of digital cameras makes video surveillance easier to hide and further obscures it from public view. But even when the cameras appear in their familiar bulky form, they are only one part of a much larger surveillance assemblage, in which the growing number and variety of actors, human and otherwise, remain unseen” (Ferenbok & Clement, 230).

  • What kinds of surveillance do you see operating here? What kinds of invisible, or less visible, surveillance might be operating here?
  • How is this space used by protestors and for civic celebrations? How are large gatherings here surveilled by authorities?
  • How do you feel about being watched by security guards as you enter public washrooms? How do you feel about being limited to 15 minutes to use the washroom?

The Bay Centre EntranceThe Bay Centre Entrance – View & Broad

“Most privacy laws require the organization conducting video surveillance to post a clear and understandable notice about the use of cameras on its premises to individuals whose images might be captured by them, before these individuals enter the premises.  This gives people the option of not entering the premises if they object to the surveillance. Signs should include a contact in case individuals have questions or if they want access to images related to them” (Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada).

  • Do you see any signage here informing you that there is video surveillance going on inside the mall or in the adjacent areas?
  • Does the lack of useful signage about surveillance in businesses in general disturb you? Do you feel like you should have to give up your privacy rights when you enter “quasi-public spaces” (Doherty et al., 291-292)?
  • What kinds of information and signage do you think are necessary for you to be able to grant informed consent to be surveilled?
  • In the ten days between when I posted the outline for this walk and when it took place on February 1, 2014, a small sign was posted at the entrance pictured above, informing people that they were subject to video surveillance and providing contact information so that people can find out more information about surveillance practices.

Suggested reading:

Market Square Green SpaceMarket Square Green Space – Johnson & Wharf

  • Why is this place important as both a site of local surveillance and as a representative site of “camera surveillance… as a form of civic engagement or duty” (Finn, 77)?
  • Do you agree with the claim that citizen surveillance has changed the nature surveillance in our society?
  • Should we engage in a “a self-reflexive look at our own willingness and desire to watch, record and display our lives and the lives of others” (Finn, 79)?

Suggested viewing:

Suggested reading:

Solstice Cafe – Discussion

  • In what ways is Victoria’s surveillance culture similar to and different from those in London, Rio and Tokyo? How are comparative studies of surveillance like this useful?
  • In 2009, the Vancouver Public Space Network mapped the locations of 2000 surviellance cameras covering public space in Vancouver’s downtown. Among other reasons, the VPSN did this to “allow people and governments in Vancouver to have a more informed discussion of the necessity and effectiveness of… increased surveillance in public spaces.” Do you think it would be a useful exercise to map public and private security cameras in Victoria?

Suggested reading:


  • Patrick Derby, “Policing in the age of information: Automated number plate recognition,” in Aaron Doyle, Randy Lippert & David Lyon (Eds.), Eyes Everywhere: The Global Growth of Camera Surveillance (New York: Routledge, 2012), 156-173.
  • Joseph Ferenbok & Andrew Clement, “Hidden changes: From CCTV to ‘smart’ video surveillance,” in Aaron Doyle, Randy Lippert & David Lyon (Eds.), Eyes Everywhere: The Global Growth of Camera Surveillance (New York: Routledge, 2012), 218-234.
  • Johnathan Finn, “Seeing surveillantly: Surveillance as social practice,” in Aaron Doyle, Randy Lippert & David Lyon (Eds.), Eyes Everywhere: The Global Growth of Camera Surveillance (New York: Routledge, 2012), 67-80.
This entry was posted in Events, Newspaper Coverage, Policing, Public Space, Reading List, UVic, Victoria, Walking Tours. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The City Walks – Is Everywhere Under Surveillance?

  1. Pingback: The City Talks – Surveillance Readings | Vincent's Victoria

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