Hidden cameras at City Park Co-op shock residents
Toronto Star
By: Joe Fiorito
09 May 2014


Ken Demerling, a City Park Co-op resident, says he learned that hidden pinhole cameras in his building were not connected to the usual bank of security monitors, but to a laptop kept in a locked drawer in the security room.
Joe Fiorito / Toronto Star


City Park Co-op is tucked in behind what we used to call Maple Leaf Gardens. The co-op is a handsome complex, three buildings in all, with a fašade that whispers “downtown.”

Or maybe “Big Brother.”

Because somebody is watching; proof of this came when residents got a letter from the board of directors recently, with this disturbing news:
“On April 7, the board was advised, for the first time, that there are concealed pinhole cameras on certain floors in the co-op.”

Concealed pinhole cameras?

“The property manager and the security manager first learned of these concealed pinhole cameras during the annual inspection of the fire equipment which took place on April 7, 2014. There was no annual inspection done in 2013.”

The cameras were installed on 25 floors of the 42 floors in the complex; yikes.
“Upon being advised of the cameras’ existence, the board directed that the cameras be shut off immediately. The cameras were shut off and remain shut off.”

I should hope so.

“Since becoming aware of and conducting its investigation in this matter (which remains ongoing), the Board learned that the cameras were installed in early 2013.”

In other words, there has been a year of secret spying in the co-op. Speculation is rampant; so far, there seems to be no evidence that the board at the time was ever consulted about the installation; there exists, however, an invoice for a capital expense in the amount of $26,000, which is as yet unexplained.
Who dunnit, and why?

I dunno.

Look here: I’ve been in a lot of apartment buildings, including many in the city’s social housing portfolio; the presence of security cams is usually no big deal, and can be desirable in some circumstances. But the cameras in the hallways of City Park were not only secretly installed, they were hidden.
I met with a couple of co-op members the other day.

A resident named Nicole said, “I felt an absolute and immediate invasion of my privacy.” Did the secret cameras, once she knew about the fact they had been there in the past, not make her feel safe? She said, “They made me feel more insecure. I should have been aware.”

Nicole asked that I not use her last name; co-ops are run differently than any other kind of housing and, for whatever reason, she fears the power of the board.

Ken Demerling has no such fear. He said, “I was shocked. I wanted to know whether the cameras were being monitored by regular security or someone else.”

Good question.

Ken said he learned that the pinhole cameras were not connected to the usual bank of security monitors, but to a laptop kept in a locked drawer in the security room; he says the company providing security at the present moment was unaware of the existence of the laptop.

What no one seems to know is whether the hidden laptop has been feeding images surreptitiously to any other computers anywhere else in the city. In other words, nobody knows who was watching, or why.

As soon as she found out about the spy cams, Nicole said, “I looked at the fire alarm inside my apartment when I found out. I looked in all the vents. I looked in the bathroom. Who knows if there are any other cameras?”

She noted, with deep irony, that there are no cameras in the laundry room where she says her son was once propositioned by an old pervert; might have been nice to have that on camera.

There was to have been a special meeting of the residents last week. That meeting was cancelled at the last minute because of the rain, on a day when it had rained earlier but the rain had stopped and there was no more rain in the forecast; go figure.

A new meeting has been held. I’ll try to find out what happened. I have an interview with the past president later on today, and have requested an interview with the current president.

I’ll keep you posted.

jfiorito@thestar.ca

Comments from readers
From these comments, the residents believe that the cameras were installed either to:
1. Catch an arsonist.
2. Spy on residents who were political opponents of the president.

Is it possible that the cameras served both purposes?
—editor

JP249
@selectrick She put them on certain floors because the people who were trying to bring her very cruel and dictatorial presidency down. The co-op's lawyers have sent her a letter to explain this.. .and she did not reply.
Hmm... why does that not surprise any of us here in the Co-op.

JP249
@Etobicoke ratepayer no it was done to monitor those people who were trying to fight for those the then prez Heather Moyer from behaving more and more dictatorial. She was firing staff without cause other than they knew of her secrets and now they have filed lawsuits (several of them), She would take up valuable tax payers dollars by calling police over and over again based on false accusations, she hired bullying security guards.. the fact that the city had to send a rep to sit in on our Board meeting when she was prez to watch that she doesn't continue with her dictatorial and cruel behavior says it all.

muscle280
I contacted a friend who lives in that co-op on Church St. Everybody knows about the cameras. They were installed to keep tabs on problems of arson and drug dealing. Maybe people new to the building don't know but the installation of the cameras was no secret, done in the open. In every large collection of people, many with nothing to do all day, malcontents and gossips are not hard to find.

JP249
@muscle2 Yes there was some arson in one of the buildings but the fact that she selectively (in the other two buildings she put them on floors where people were trying to get transparency) chose only those floors in the other two buildings to put those secret cameras is totally wrong and is an example of her presidency based on fear and intimidation.

JP249
@muscle280 I`m surprised they didn`t tell you that all of the cameras in the other two buildings where there were no fires in the garbage chutes, were placed on floors where the past prez had people fighting to keep our co-op democratic and no cruel Co-op. The past prez was scolded by the City for her tyrannical behavior and she had two recall attempts (the first time in history that a prez had a recall vote.)

JP249
@seniora no she did it all in secret. that's how bad a prez she was in her very secret dictatorial behavior and why the city had a rep come to the Board meetings.. to watch over her.

mollyball
Joe conveniently omits the fact that at the time when the cameras appear to have been installed a firebug was putting lit materials down the garbage chute in the building which has the most cameras, that the cameras were trained on the hallways outside the garbage chutes and not in any places where one would have a reasonable expectation of privacy, and that the firebug had been the source of so many fires in the garbage compactor that the recycling and garbage rooms were padlocked overnight because security (and the Board) were unable to determine who was causing the fires. Sure, there are still questions to be answered, but the situation looks substantially different now, doesn't it? Forget about keeping us "posted"... how about doing the research BEFORE writing the article?

The follow up column

Police, fire departments can’t justify co-op’s
spy cameras: Fiorito

Toronto Star
Joe Fiorito Columnist
16 May 2014

You will recall the discovery of secret spy cameras on 25 of the 42 floors of the City Park Co-op. They were found during a routine check of the smoke detectors.

The board of the co-op swiftly sent a letter to tenants, advising them of this fact and serving notice that the board was looking into things.

I talked to a couple of residents about their reaction to the letter, and to the cameras. They were, as you might expect, upset.

They were not the only ones.

Heather Moyer, the immediate past-president of the co-op, declined an interview she had previously agreed to; she did not respond to my questions about why she would not speak.

Robert Fisher, the current president, also declined to be interviewed; he said the board is pursuing an investigation, and he does not want to comment at this time.

Oh, but many co-op members wrote.

Some suggested, indignantly, that if a person has done nothing wrong, then he or she has nothing to fear from any cameras, secret or not, no matter who installed them or why, and no matter who is recording or viewing — or possibly distributing — the images.

Frankly, ladies and gentlemen, anyone who would give up his or her rights so eagerly does not deserve your respect, nor do they have mine.

An aside: there is little evidence that spy cameras, whether overt or covert, are at all useful in deterring crime. And as we know from certain images of a politician with a crack pipe in his hand, video evidence of bad behaviour rarely leads to criminal charges.

But I digress.

Some residents of City Park suggested to me that the cameras were installed, on the advice of the fire department, to catch someone in the act of setting mischief fires.

But Deputy Chief Mike McCoy said the fire department would never, under any circumstances, recommend the installation of secret cameras.

He also said that the incidence of fires at City Park is “typical of highrises in the city.” He added that the co-op “is not on the radar of the fire department.” And he said, “If there were multiple calls, it would raise a red flag for us.”
But even if that were the case, arson is a crime, and therefore a police matter; would the cops ever suggest the use of hidden cameras to spy on tenants in an apartment complex?

Police spokesman Mark Pugash said, “If we advise people to put in cameras, they’d be overt.”

I pressed him about the use of secret cameras. He said, “I can’t imagine a situation where we would advise people to do that.” And then he echoed McCoy, saying he could not find anything to support any concerns of arson at City Park.

Finally, I had a note from Gordon Scott, of Strategic Improvement Company. Scott is a consultant in surveillance and security matters, and is particularly well-informed. He wrote:

“The temporary use of any covert hallway surveillance is not appropriate. On balance, such an intrusion, however well managed, into the daily life of residents is, I believe, a greater threat to the well-being of residents than any possible benefit.”

But even if there were a temporary need for secret cameras — and I’d argue that’s a stretch — he observed: “The product of any such covert surveillance must be stored in the same system that records all other CCTV. The same controls on who views, downloads or distributes images must apply. Safeguards must exist to ensure that no unauthorized use of the video footage occurs. The covert camera must be removed when its mission is accomplished.”

And then he added, “25 covert cameras in use at once seems preposterous. Separate management and storage of the product of the covert cameras on a hidden laptop suggests that security personnel cannot be trusted with the investigation.

“If that is the case . . . there are more serious issues to deal with than even the covert cameras. It is hard to imagine a state of uncontrolled criminality and anti-social behaviour so vast and widespread that such a system would be required.”

I couldn’t have put it better.

But questions remain at City Park: who installed the cameras, why were they secret, where were the images recorded, and who saw them? Or rather, is anyone still seeing them? None of this is clear.
This has got to stop.


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