Police use of Clearview AI eroded public trust

And was probably illegal

Board of Police Commissioners, June 21, 2021

Meeting recap (the important stuff):

The Board of Police Commissioners met and started their meeting off with a farewell to the previous chair of the board, Commissioner Natalie Borden. 

The commissioners then heard a presentation from Bryan Short from Open Media, who outlined that Halifax Regional Police have a huge accountability gap with the public when it comes to their use of facial recognition software. He said HRP denied using an AI biometric information gathering software but a week later admitted to using Clearview AI, after Clearview’s client list was released and listed HRP as a client. Short said this was a problem because the violation of privacy creates an issue with public trust and is also likely the police breaking the law. 

Longtime readers of Committee Trawler might notice a theme on police accountability, from HRP lying to their oversight body about IT security, to HRP not giving an answer to their oversight body on things they’d been directed to do, to HRP not giving an answer to media on things they’ve been directed to do, to HRP not facing any consequences for subverting Charter rights, to the HRP (likely) breaking the Criminal Records Act (a.k.a. (likely) breaking the law), to HRP abusing their power and tearing families apart, the HRP have a huge accountability problem. The use of Clearview AI can now be added to the list. 

Commissioner Smith also gave an update on the Subcommittee to Define Defunding the Police. They had a public meeting on Saturday that was attended by 17 speakers. Most spoke in favour of defunding police. One speaker wanted to reduce the police’s operational budget to put towards training. And one speaker, who spoke at the public hearing for what defunding the police should or could look like, said he wanted public consultation into defunding the police. The full six hour public hearing can be found here. The survey about defunding the police has received over 1800 responses making it the most engagement the city has ever had in a survey. The survey is still live if you want to have your say

During the chief update section of the meeting, RCMP Chief Janis Gray said it was important to recognize the role police as an institution play in upholding systemic oppression like white supremacy. She followed that up in the Wortley report update section by outlining the RCMP’s issues with collecting race based data. Namely that there’s no good system in place to collect race based data or retrieve it easily from their database. 

And finally, Chief Kinsella said that in spite of ongoing messaging and education campaigns speeding and distracted driving isn’t going down. He said the only way people seem to learn is through enforcement. Kinsella has previously told the board the traffic unit (10 HRP officers who predominantly work 9-5, Monday to Friday, out of a force of approximately 530) is supplemented in an ad hoc manner with other officers if they see something on patrol or aren’t otherwise doing anything else.      

Who said what (paraphrased): 

*Meeting started off with a farewell to former chair of the board, Commissioner Natalie Borden*

Smith: Any changes to the agenda?

Clerk: Yes, we’re adding the item about the police investigating themselves. 

Kent: We got a report about Victim Services, we talked about getting a presentation when we got our new board member, and I’m fine with waiting still, but I just want to make sure we don’t forget it. 

Smith: There’s a good chance we can do that next meeting. Up next, presentation, Bryan Short about Clearview AI. 

Bryan Short: I work for Open Media, I’m here to talk about the police’s former and possibly future use of facial recognition. While I’m talking about facial recognition, there are other biometrics that can be monitors. HRP used Clearview AI, they only acknowledged using this technology after Clearview’s client list was leaked. A week prior to this, they denied using it. Clearview was investigated and found to be a violation of privacy rights. The RCMP was also investigated. Between the two, Clearview was found to be in contravention of both public and private privacy laws. Canada has a completely inadequate framework that governs the laws on this. Police agencies run the risk of breaking the law and losing public trust. I’m concerned that the police used Clearview while telling the public they weren’t. I’m suggesting the HRP undermined the public trust in their endeavour. Clearview makes anyone with an image on the internet at risk of having their privacy violated. Everyone, including children, are in this database. There’s legislation on how police can use images and photos in investigations. To create a photo pack of 10 images a Vancouver Police Department (used because their policies are public) needs three forms. How many would be required for 3 billion people? They’re doing the same thing with Clearview, but the rules are way different. Why are three forms required for a photobook, but not oversight for Clearview? And facial recognition software has traditionally racist algorithms. Women and non-white faces are frequently misidentified. You should create an oversight and policy framework and structure where they have to report to you at least on a yearly basis. This issue has and will continue to have an impact on public trust in police. I implore you to recognize the threat of this technology and implore you to do a moratorium on this technology until there is regulation in place. 

McDougall: Can you send us your presentation? I learn better from a document, it’s sometimes good to read over a document. 

Short: The question was cutting out a bit, but did I understand you wanted a copy of this presentation? Yes. I can do that. 

Smith: Quebec is the only place with a policy around the gathering of photos? 

Short: Biometric information. Quebec is the only province with privacy legislation around biometrics. 

Smith: Is that municipal? Provincial? 

Short: Provincial. 

Smith: Can you give us more information on Open Media?

Short: *Elevator pitches Open Media*

Smith: Right to report and discussions, Wortley report update. We’ve been talking about this for a while. There were some groups we needed to reach out to. The Department of Justice will be giving an update on what they’ve done, which will be attached to ours. We’ll be getting submissions from the African Nova Scotian Decade for People of African Descent Coalition (DPAD), Human Rights Commission, and a few others. We should have that ready by our next meeting if everything goes according to plan. 

Kinsella: You can expect our report in the next week, week and a half. 

Gray: We’re pretty much done too, you’ll have it next week. 

Blackburn: Will there be any public component? 

Smith: We had a brief discussion, we’re going to present the written aspect, and there might be a time after the report to have a public portion. If we want the public to be part of it, the report won’t be able to go out next meeting. 

McDougall: Will all three of the organizations you mentioned include reports? Will all community groups? 

Smith: Human Rights Commission first started the investigation, DPAD was the initial complainant, and we asked for an update from the DOJ. That’s why those three were asked. *Missed a follow-up from McDougall* Next, IT update.

Kinsella: This is a follow-up from our update in April. We completed recommendation number 8, and can answer any questions you have.  

Smith: This report is public, do you want to do more with this? 

McDougall: Number 9, HRP should update and maintain its IT asset list. It’s noted that it’s complete. Is it ‘complete’ as opposed to regularly maintained? 

Kinsella: The issue of the regularly maintained list is the procedure and policy on how we do it and who’s responsible for it. Ditto with repairs. 

Smith: We understand how we got here today. For the public recommendations, the policies can’t be made public, but should we see those policies? Or do they fall into the line of operations? Will we see these policies? 

Kinsella: We have an in-camera portion that would allow for a more robust discussion. Number 8 has to do with destruction and removal of data. We made a new policy and have new equipment, we can tell you about it in-camera. Should we have motions attached to these updates? Or are we just receiving them as updates? 

Clerk: There’s no action tied to these motions, so no motion is required. 

Smith: On Saturday the public participation portion of the Subcommittee to Define Defunding Police was on the weekend. Everyone who signed up to speak got to. We were there to listen. Survey is still open (it can be found here). The subcommittee’s email is: [email protected]. Do you know how many people participated on Saturday? 

Clerk: 17 speakers. 

Smith: There were almost 1800 surveys that have been filled out. This will be one of the largest engagements we’ve ever done in the HRM. That’s it for me, I’ll give a more in-depth update as we get closer. 

McDougall: How many people signed up to be an attendant instead of a participant? Do we know? 

Clerk: It was viewed over 300 times on YouTube (for a municipal subcommittee, this is equivalent of a new song from a Canadian stalwart like Joel Plaskett getting a couple million streams).

Smith: Moving on to chief updates, Chief Gray. 

Gray: We expect our policy on street checks to be published by the end of the week. But it’s a national policy, so the national office will have our response, so I won’t talk about it. We abide by the provincial ban on street checks. Our interim Wortley report update will be out next week. We’re creating a new orientation package for new RCMP members posted to Nova Scotia. As a Canadian and member of the RCMP, I know that we’ve been responsible for enforcing racist policies. The lessons from the past have continuing relevance. *Boilerplate diversity is important for policing statement

Kent: Thank you for that. Huge thank you to our RCMP officers that did the drug bust.   

McDougall: Thank you, can we have that as a document for these minutes? 

Smith: The federal street check report, will you have something on that once you review it? 

Gray: Yes I can follow up with its implications for Halifax. 

Smith: Next, HRP. 

Kinsella: We’re continuing COVID practices. (Missed some stuff, mainly the rest of the report)  

McDougall: *She’s cutting in and out, wildly fluctuation in volume

Smith: Have you been able to look at the amount of tickets being issued and what’s going into creating the situation where people speed and drive distracted? 

Kinsella: We run a campaign, education, enforcement, but despite our repeated efforts to tell people not to break the law, people do. We to look for high risk intersections to see if there’s something we can mitigate there. We run campaigns for speeding abatement. In spite of our best efforts, enforcement is what’s required to get people to change their behaviour (whaaaaaaaaat? Groundbreaking stuff). 

Smith: We used to get the traffic number presented to us at the board but will we be getting that report soon? 

Kinsella: Bi-annual, June and December, you’ll get it soon. 

Smith: The new Traffic Safety Act, we’re going to be allowed to create bylaws around noise, have you talked about that potential and what that means? Will there be a capacity issue? 

Kinsella: There’s a lot of issues, we’re working closely with stakeholders and have had inputs into the new rules. 

Smith: I was asked by our local community after the terrorist van attack in London, to find out how hate crimes are investigated by our local police forces. There is going to be raced-based data collection in the province, can you give a high level understanding of how hate crimes are investigated and how to make a complaint? 

Kinsella: Hate related crimes are of the utmost importance for law enforcement. We like to start investigations early, but lowest reported. We want to gather the evidence asap. We take pictures, then remove the hate symbol, if it’s graffiti, as quickly as possible. Once the evidence is gathered it goes to our GIS section who does a full investigation then does whatever is required (ominous). There’s no place for hate related crimes in our community (unless you’re a police officer, then it has a place if you just do a course to learn to be better.) 

Gray: It’s important to know that some things, like name calling, might not reach the level of criminality for charges. We follow provincial guidelines on hate crimes and require our officers to complete anti-bias training. 

Kent: One of the things that has happened, there have been two hate graffiti in municipal parks. Which are brought to us usually, and we put it in our 311 program, and they’re quick at cleaning it up. How does that get connected to you folks so you know it’s happened? Nine times out of ten, if it’s a playground structure, is there any point in fingerprinting? But anyway, it’s criminal, and no matter how small it’s part of a larger picture. So how do you connect to that data? To know that this is happening in our communities? 

Gray: It’s a damaged property and the city owns the property, so the HRM could report it to the police. 

Kinsella: A call to the police should happen in those cases as well. Our preference is to get the call ourselves and then tell 311. We’ve had instances where 311 gets there first and cleans it up, so we’ve started making connections there to ask them to hold the scene. 

Kent: I’m glad to hear that step is happening. There’s a desire for quick action for these symbols on playgrounds, for example. So as long as there’s a commitment to make sure it’s cleaned up basically as soon as it’s reported, that’s important. Is that happening? Is it a solid process that’s set up? Or just something that happens sometimes when the right people are there? I want it to be a set process.

Kinsella: I’d say it’s fulsome. Our response times are quick. 

Blackburn: The reporting and data, how is this tracked? We had a presentation on anti-Asian racism that said it was hard to get data from the police on it. 

Gray: Versadex will flag a crime if it’s a hate crime (if it’s entered properly as a hate crime), we also flag intimate partner violence. If you want to know how many hate crimes have been committed, we’d have to go into the files and read them. 

Kinsella: We continue to work in this area to better reflect and capture these types of crimes. 

McDougall: The Diversity Advisory Committee, which has been on hiatus since COVID started, are they also monitoring that? Are they still meeting? Is this information delivered to them? 

Kinsella: The diversity working group has been meeting. We’ve been mapping out how to move forward at a strategic level. These types of discussions are always welcome at that committee. 

Smith: The lack of data, if I wanted to do a FOIPOP to find out how many calls you’ve had about islamophobia you could get that information, but it would be someone’s job to go through each case one by one? 

Gray: Yes. 

Smith: Kinsella, same thing? You use Versadex too? 

Kinsella: Yes, same thing. 

Smith: In terms of the policy of how these are investigated, do you send Victim Services to liaise with the complainant? What supports are in place? 

Kinsella: When a report like this comes in, it goes to an NCO who evaluates if it is a hate crime or not. Victim Services are available for victims. 

Gray: And all of this information is brought in, and we can do a threat assessment if we feel a group is being targeted. 

Smith: For hate crime legislation, what are the different levels of hate crime that are chargeable? If I report a hate crime, if someone did something to me, what are the avenues for them to be charged? 

Katherine Salsman, city lawyer: That’s a bit outside of my normal practice, I’ll have to get back to you. 

Gray: We got a pretty good brief on hate crime, we have hate propaganda, incitement of hate. But the challenges are proving the element of hate. They could be charged with criminal offences but not the hate component. Which means the hate component wouldn’t come up in the file (and therefore likely unfindable in Versadex). 

Kinsella: If these charges are going to be proceeded with, there’s considerable consultation with the crown. There’s a lot of thought and consideration that goes into it. 

McDougall: You’ve mentioned GIS, what is that? 

Kinsella: General Investigative Section, integrated with RCMP.

Smith: Now we’re moving in-camera. 

*Meeting returns from in-camera and is adjourned*


Commissioner Lindell Smith, Chair (Councillor, District 8)

Commissioner Carole McDougall, Vice Chair

Commissioner Becky Kent (Councillor, District 3)

Commissioner Lisa Blackburn (Councillor, District 14)


Commissioner Anthony Thomas

Commissioner Carlos Beals



Previous meeting minutes and current agenda:

Previous meeting 

Current agenda

A former Naval Officer turned journalist, Matt Stickland is committed to empowering his community to ensure that everyone has access to the information they need to make their city a better place.

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