Biometrics Hazard: How Facial Recognition Technology is used by Canadian Law Enforcement

Biometrics Hazard: How Facial Recognition Technology is used by Canadian Law Enforcement

“Not only is this a concern with the possibility of misidentifying someone and leading to wrongful convictions, it can also be very damaging to our society by being abused by law enforcement for things like constant surveillance of the public”

– Nicole Martin, Forbes contributor

Star Trek. Back to the Future. District 9. I, Robot. These are only a few examples of films that have relied on biometrics – more commonly referred to as Facial Recognition – as a theme for entertainment. All are fiction based and while you may have thought of biometrics as a tool used by elusive government agencies like the FBI and CIA, that isn’t the case at all. Advancements in biometric technology have been seized upon by various law enforcement and government agencies across Canada – creating serious concerns from privacy and civil liberty advocates, and of course, criminal defence counsel.

The Calgary Police Service began using Facial Recognition technology in 2014. The system they use, known as NeoFace Reveal, works by analyzing an uploaded image and translating it into a mathematical pattern known as an algorithm. The image is then logged in a database and used for comparison against other uploaded images.

The Toronto Police Service hopped on board too. They reported uploading 800,000 images into their Repository for Integrated Criminalistic Imaging, or RICI by 2018. Their use of biometrics began with a trial in 2014, and in 2018, the Service purchased a system at a cost of about $450,000. Between March and December of 2018, the Toronto Police Service ran 1,516 searches, with about 910 of those searches (or 60%) resulting in a potential match. Of those potential matches, approximately 728 people were identified (about 80%). There were no statistics provided in relation to ethnicity, age, or gender, however, research has raised concerns about disproportionate effects of biometrics as it relates to people of color.

Manitoba Police do not currently use biometric technology as an investigative tool, although the idea was floated around in 2019 after the commission of a report concerning growing crime rates in Winnipeg’s downtown core. The Provincial government in Manitoba went so far as to suggest that this technology could be used to identify violent behavior – which sounds a lot like active surveillance, an unethical use of biometrics, which demonstrates one of the most profound concerns surrounding use of this technology. And while it is only a matter of time until the Manitoba Police do use this technology, many retailers in the province are already using it.

At home here in British Columbia, the Vancouver Police Department denies using Facial Recognition technology as a mechanism to investigate crime – in fact, back in 2011, they turned down ICBC’s offer to assist in identifying suspects involved in the Vancouver Stanley Cup Riots with the aid of their software. The office of the BC Privacy Commissioner confirmed that any use of ICBC’s facial recognition data by the VPD would amount to a breach of privacy for its customers.The office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada has been keeping track since at least 2013 yet, there is little regulation of the use of biometrics in public and private sectors. 

The same cannot be said for the RCMP in British Columbia, who, as recently as two weeks ago refused to confirm or deny use of biometrics as an investigative tool, but questions have been raised as to whether or not the RCMP is a client of Clearview AI, a facial recognition startup pioneered by US citizen Hoan Ton-That. Clearview’s work has not gone unnoticed – Facebook and Twitter have issued cease and desist letters, making it very clear that they do not support Clearview’s objectives. Google issued a cease and desist letter as well – however, their position on biometrics is fuzzy – especially since they are trying to make advancements in this area as well. So far, though, they have come under fire for their tactics and the results that have been generated. 

The Canadian Government’s position on the use of biometrics is established on their website. When you submit your biometric information at Service Canada (for example), your information isn’t actually stored there, rather, it is sent to the Canadian Immigration Biometric Identification System, where it will remain for a period of 10 years. Further, your biometrics information will be shared with the United States, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. And yes – you can refuse to provide this information – but it will likely put a kink in your travel plans.

 

One important factor to consider about all of these agencies and their use of biometric technology is that this tool was never intended for use as active surveillance, or a method to intervene in incidents of crime in real-time. Whether it is a violent assault, sexual assault, theft under or over $5,000, murder or kidnapping, biometrics is an “after the fact” investigative mechanism. If used ethically and within parameters that preserve the privacy of all citizens 100% of the time, perhaps there would be no need for alarm – but that is incredibly unlikely. As more agencies begin to use this technology, the lack of regulatory oversight is bound to create an enormous pervasion of your privacy – and you may never know about it.

Bill C-75: An Act to relieve judicial delay

Bill C-75 received Royal Assent on June 21, 2019. The Act amends the Criminal Code, the Youth Criminal Justice Act (“YCJA”), the Victim Surcharge Bill (C-28), the Exploitation and Trafficking in Persons Bill (Bill C-38), and the Unconstitutional provisions Bill (Bill C-39).


Lacking a comprehensive amendment since 1972, the bail provisions of the Criminal Code have been revised to address concerns that have been mounting for several decades. The Act seeks to simplify the judicial interim release process by expanding the conditions on which the police can release an Accused person, thereby making an appearance before a Justice unnecessary. The Act will also seek to reduce judicial delay by ensuring that release conditions are not redundant, unrealistic or overly complex, and that sureties are not overburdened.

If successful, the amendments relating to bail will result in fewer Administration of Justice Offences (“AOJO”) being brought before the Canadian courts. In any event, the Act has laid new framework by which these offences will be dealt with. Offences of this nature are offences that are “committed against the integrity of the justice system”, including but not limited to: failing to comply with bail conditions (no contact, no-go, abstinence alcohol/drugs to name a few), failure to appear in court, and breach of probation. Amendments to the Act provide that these offences will be directed to a judicial referral hearing when appropriate, as opposed to immediately laying a breach charge. At a judicial referring hearing, rather than focus on the guilt or innocence of the accused, the Judge will review the conditions imposed, and will decide how to proceed. Judicial referral hearings will not appear on a person’s criminal record – however, if a person does not appear for their hearing, the investigating police officer may use their discretion to either drop or proceed with the charge. Since Administration of Justice Offences account for about 4 out of every 10 incidents reported by police, removing these matters from the traditional court process will likely have a substantial impact on managing judicial delay.

The Act amends several portions of the YCJA. Firstly, it limits the conditions that can be placed on a young person upon their release from custody, in hopes of avoiding breaches that occur only due to unnecessarily rigid conditions. The intended result will be lower frequencies of Administration of Justice Offences. Additionally, prosecutors will no longer be obligated to consider an adult sentence for youth charged with serious violent offences, and are no longer obligated to bring that decision to the attention of the Court. The Crown will also not be obligated to consider an adult sentence for a youth convicted of a serious, violent offence.

In the interests of addressing delay, the Act has also removed certain elements of the judicial process, many of which could likely hinder an Accused person’s ability to make full answer and defence to the charges against them. Firstly, the Act restricts the availability of Preliminary Inquiries to offences that carry a maximum punishment of 14 years or more in prison (previously, any indictable offence could attract a Preliminary Hearing). Preliminary Hearings are an excellent opportunity for the Crown, Defence and Judge to assess the strength of the prosecution’s case. It assists with judicial case management, providing insight into the length of time required for witnesses to give their evidence, issues requiring a Voir Dire, and the number of days required for trial. In certain instances, it may also provide an opportunity for the defence to consider a resolution proposal, in circumstances where the evidence presented guides such a decision. Additionally, the Act permits Judges to limit the issues explored during a Prelim, and which witnesses may be called. It goes without saying that indictable matters aside from first degree murder and aggravated sexual assault are deserving of a Preliminary Hearing. 

The Act also modifies the procedure for jury selection. Peremptory challenges, which allowed counsel to reject a potential juror without requiring a reason, have been abolished. There were serious concerns surrounding the misuse of peremptory challenges to ensure the jury was of a particular composition – one that would be adverse to the interests of the Accused.

The objective of the Act, broadly, is to reduce judicial delay by targeting and eliminating systemic flaws that impede the wheels of justice from turning as they should – but constitutional challenges are still to be expected.

If you’ve been charged with a criminal offence, it is crucial that you contact an experienced criminal lawyer without delay. We are conveniently located in Richmond, B.C., only a few steps away from Brighouse Station on the Canada Line, which brings you from various locations in Metro Vancouver in 20 minutes. We service all areas of the lower mainland (including but not limited to Surrey, New Westminster, Port Coquitlam, North Vancouver, and Abbotsford) the interior of B.C. (including but not limited to Cranbrook, Kelowna, Kamloops, and Salmon Arm), Northern B.C. (including but not limited to Prince George, Prince Rupert, and Quesnel) and in the Yukon Territory where we offer services in Whitehorse, Dawson City, Faro, Mayo, and Old Crow. Contact our office today to speak to a criminal defence lawyer without delay. 

Cannabis Legalization 2018

On October 17, 2018, which is just 1 short day away, cannabis becomes legal across all of Canada.


Cannabis legalization marks a huge shift in public policy, law, and will propel an industry that has existed in the shadows, into the limelight. While both federal and provincial governments have been candidly saying that legalization will not be perfect right away and will be a work in progress, most Canadians are viewing legalization as a step in the right direction as so many lives have been negatively affected by cannabis prohibition.

So, what will happen on October 17? The naysayers want you to believe that there will be a proliferation of crime in the streets. Stoned zombies walking around town. A dramatic rise in impaired drivers. However those that are educated on the subject know that the sky won’t fall and society will continue to function just as it did today, on October 16. What will change is that the millions of cannabis consumers in Canada won’t have to worry about being arrested (if they stay within the parameters of the new cannabis laws) and communities that allow for retail sales will be able to collect millions in tax dollars that can be pumped right back into public programs and infrastructure.

For a variety of reasons, there remains a considerable stigma associated to cannabis consumption. However as time goes on and people realize the benefits that legalization will bring, I predict that the stigma erodes and that society will regard cannabis favorably.

 

MEDIA RELEASE – HOPCRAFT, Michael – AKA “The Reptile Guy”

In early July, the BCSPCA announced charges against Mr. Hopcraft under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act and the Veterinarians Act after viewing a video posted on Mr. Hopcraft’s “Wild Education” Facebook page showing him relieving a blood python of a bowel obstruction.

Contrary to what the BCSPCA has alleged, this procedure did not cause the python any harm, pain, nor discomfort. In fact, the python was relieved of a 6-month build up of excrement in its bowel track, which was surely causing it incredible discomfort.

Today, the python is alive and well, as confirmed by its happy owners.

While Mr. Hopcraft takes these charges very seriously, we take the position that this is nothing more than the BCSPCA’s attempt to, once again, slander Mr. Hopcraft in the Court of Public Opinion and try to put him out of business.

As many of you know, Mr. Hopcraft has considerable knowledge and more than 18-years experience in handling and caring for exotic animals. For years, Mr. Hopcraft has been educating the general public on television, in your children’s schools, and at your community events. Over these years, Mr. Hopcraft has consistently demonstrated that his primary objective is to ensure the well-being of his animals, many of which come to him as neglected or abandoned pets.

Furthermore, since the BCSPCA publicly announced charges against Mr. Hopcraft, numerous veterinarians in British Columbia have reached out and denounced the BCSPCA’s allegations towards him. Their consensus is that the python suffered no harm, and that if the python were to be sedated in any way (which the BCSPCA suggested ought to have happened) that the python could have experienced complications and/or died.

Mr. Hopcraft will meet these charges in a court of law and until his trial date he is to be presumed innocent.

Finally, Mr. Hopcraft, and his Wild Education organization, will proudly continue to care for its animals and he looks forward to continuing to educate you all about them.

Jason Tarnow

Legal Counsel to Michael Hopcraft

Subjective speculation to sweep across the Nation How Drug Recognition Experts will handle Cannabis on Canadian Roadways

 

It seems like a done deal.

Legal cannabis will be in the hands of Canadians before the year is up, if, of course, Bill C-45 (the Cannabis Act) passes through its third and final reading in the Senate on June 7, 2018. Assuming it does, government approved retailers will begin stocking the sticky product sometime in late August or early September. With only a couple months to go, law enforcement officials are finalizing strategies to combat high drivers. While THC impairment screening devices are in the research and development stage, police forces will be relying on specially trained officers to identify drug impaired motorists.


These specially trained officers are known as “Drug Recognition Experts” (“DRE”), receiving the designation after completion of programming offered in jurisdictions spanning North America. Much like the preliminary steps taken in alcohol-impaired driving investigations, DRE’s make findings based whatever limited evidence is available at the time. For example, if a police constable forms reasonable suspicion of impairment by alcohol, the next step is to demand a breath sample on an Approved Screening Device. The result of that screening determines the officer’s next steps. In this context, the officer’s opinion regarding impairment is subjective only until the Approved Screening Device issues a reading. If the result is a “FAIL”, the officer can reasonably conclude that the driver is intoxicated. Discretion then allows the officer to issue an Immediate Roadside Prohibition (in British Columbia), or to continue the investigation with another breath test at the detachment, paving the way for criminal charges. 

In the case of marijuana-impaired drivers, police lack one very important resource: sound, scientific instruments to test for THC levels. Forget the debate over what constitutes “impairment” from marijuana – we can’t make any use of an identifiable range when there is no quantifying tool.

Acknowledging this, the Government of Canada has attempted to soothe concerns by assuring the public that DRE’s are absolutely qualified, that their subjective opinions are sufficient, and that their judgement is sound. But, in reality, police officers are just normal people with a job to do, and are not in any way immune to making mistakes – but in their role, fallacy holds serious consequences for public confidence.

DRE procedure is both standardized and systemic, meaning that the techniques don’t change – regardless of circumstances. Aka, it is a “one size fits all” approach. Observation is the key focus of these investigations – DRE’s making note of a subject’s behavior, attitude, and candour throughout the process. Specific observations relating to blood pressure, pulse, and ocular activity are also recorded. Subjects are asked to perform “field tests” similar to those requested in alcohol impairment investigations – walk a straight line, stand on one leg, touch your nose, etc.

The key concern with this methodology is the blind faith in an officer’s ability to provide a subjective opinion that is free from bias. Interestingly, a blood or urine test to confirm toxicology is only requested after DRE has concluded (decided) that a driver is drug-impaired. So if you’re being investigated for such an offence, your best case scenario is to waste 2-3 hours at the police detachment under observation, plus further invasive testing, before the DRE establishes that you weren’t driving stoned – you were  tired after a long night of work, just like you said.

If the Government chooses to develop an administrative penalty system for high drivers in the same way they did for alcohol impaired drivers, we are likely to see increased praise for police when fines from impounds and prohibitions come pouring in. Criminal lawyers in British Columbia are already cringing at the thought of another regime that strips individuals of their right to make full answer and defence to allegations against them – this time, in relation to drug  offences, which can create significant problems for future travel and employment prospects. 

If law enforcement’s strategy to protect our roadways involves unethical arrests, and even worse, false convictions, public perception of police integrity is sure to be compromised, and our progressive marijuana laws could end up doing more harm than good.

If you’ve been charged with drug impairment offences, it is crucial that you contact an experienced criminal lawyer without delay. We are conveniently located in Richmond, B.C., only a few steps away from Brighouse Station on the Canada Line, which brings you from various locations in Metro Vancouver in 20 minutes. We service all areas of the lower mainland (including but not limited to Surrey, New Westminster, Port Coquitlam, North Vancouver, and Abbotsford) the interior of B.C. (including but not limited to Cranbrook, Kelowna, Kamloops, and Salmon Arm), Northern B.C. (including but not limited to Prince George, Prince Rupert, and Quesnel) and in the Yukon Territory where we offer services in Whitehorse, Dawson City, and Old Crow. Contact our office today for your initial consultation.