Trashcam ‘stink’ continues to rise

By Robert Frank

Beaconsfielders concerned about privacy, salubrity and potential trash infractions questioned Mayor Georges Bourelle’s new garbage policy during the Sept. 22 city council meeting.

“The bulk of our customers are really unhappy about what is being implemented here,” Beaurepaire bakery owner Dierdre Mannitts told the mayor during question period.

Mannitts is concerned that passersby will treat her business’ bins as public garbage cans.

“We’re also very, very concerned about what might be put in our garbage bin,” she added.

“We had to do it,” Bourelle replied, blaming Quebec’s new trash regulations. “We had no choice.”

She reminded Bourelle that—unlike Pointe Claire and Dollard des Ormeaux which have implemented industrial composting—Beaconsfield residents can’t even recycle a pizza box. Beaconsfield environment committee chair Karen Messier claimed that that sort of collection would be too expensive for Beaconsfield.

“Brown bin collection would cost about $400,000 a year,” she argued. “Cities that have those brown bins, they’re having problems with them. When people find the meat and bones get stinky, they turn around and throw it in the garbage can. Plus, in wintertime, those materials stick and freeze at the bottom of the bin. The bin gets lifted and the material stays in the bottom of the bin.”

“So now if I’m living beside someone who only puts their garbage out once a month, I’m going to have to put up with that stink,” Mannitts replied.

Bourelle also brushed off concerns that the garbage truck operators last year started sending imagery of alleged garbage infractions to city hall.

“Maybe there’s something toxic. Fine. But what you dump into a garbage truck can contain information other than a paint can,” asserted attorney Brigitte Garceau. “What happens with that screen shot is a privacy rights issue, because it is going to the city. The data is being collected and I want to know what happens to it. Did you ask for a legal opinion on the major question of the collection and storage of data by the city and what was the answer?”

“I’m not going to get into it,” Bourelle retorted. “Garbage at the curb you have abandoned. So therefore it is no longer yours. [Once] it is in the truck, [the operator] is taking a picture of something that is no longer yours. And it’s all covered in the legal opinion.”

When Garceau asked to see the opinion Bourelle refused to share it—despite the fact that public money was used to obtain it—and suggested that Garceau call the city’s legal counsel Marc-André LeChasseur at her cost.

Both cases that Bourelle referred to in this so-called confidential opinion entail criminal investigations.

The Quebec Court of Appeal, for example, refused in 2012 to overturn a warrant that Royal Canadian Mounted Police used to search Express Transaction Services’ garbage.

The Supreme Court of Canada also ruled in another case that police who had reasonable and probable grounds could rifle through the garbage of a suspected drug dealer.

It remains to be seen whether these individual criminal cases permit cities to systematically monitor citizens, or whether Quebec’s civil code and privacy law provisions will instead prevail.

However trash contains far more intimate information about private lives that many citizens find needlessly intrusive. “I don’t want the city knowing when I’m having my period,” a Beaconsfield resident told The Suburban.

Ultimately, Councilor David Pelletier acknowledged, determined dumpers can defeat trashcam monitoring. “Anyone with cunning can figure out that you can put anything you want in a plastic garbage bag,” he admitted. “We don’t have x-ray cameras. I don’t want people to start putting toxic crap in garbage bags so it can’t be seen, but that’s the reality.”

“We hope that maybe [trashcams] will act as a deterrent,” added Pelletier, who said at a previous council meeting that he stores his garbage for nine weeks. “Anyone who throws out something that shouldn’t be there will get caught.”

The Suburban has started proceedings to obtain the legal opinion through Access to Information.

150915 closeup of Beaconsfield trashcams image

Beaconsfield systematically monitors residents’ trash and stores imagery of alleged infractions indefinitely. (Photo © Robert Frank)

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