Surveillance cameras installed in Cowichan school buses, privacy expert worries

Surveillance cameras installed in Cowichan school buses, privacy expert worries
File Photo
A security camera mounted onto a school bus in the Cowichan Valley School District


Amanda Stone drives 45 children to school on her Cowichan Valley School District bus every day and she says that almost daily, she sees cars running by her flashing stop lights as children step off the bus.

“I actually had a driver come to this side of my bus as I was letting a student off and I literally had to grab their backpack,” said Amanda Stone.

COVID-19 exposures in the school district have also left Stone worried.

“Keeping track of kids for COVID reasons, where did they sit, who were they sitting around,” said Stone.

With these factors in mind, the bus driver says she welcomed the addition of surveillance cameras installed in Cowichan Valley School District buses last month.

“They’re an amazing gift. I’m so thankful for them,” said the bus driver of three years.

The Cowichan Valley School District purchased the cameras with a Safe Return to Class fund from the federal government in the wake of COVID-19, totalling a cost of $150,000.

“That allowed us to purchase these cameras really with a focus of doing contact tracing, if indeed there was an exposure at a school and say that student or staff member was on the bus,” said Mike Russell, Director of Communications for Cowichan Valley School District.

Cameras are now equipped in a total of 36 school buses across the district.

“The outside cameras, as part of this package, are able to record license plates as well as the infractions happening which we are able to get over to the RCMP for further enforcement,” said Russell.

The BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association, however, is worried that on bus cameras are a slippery slope during COVID-19.

Executive Director Jason Woywada said that surveilling children sets his alarm bells off.

“It’s being done under COVID-19 and that seems to be a bridge too far. We see a lot of erosion of privacy protections during emergencies and they tend not to be removed afterwards and that is exactly going to be the case here,” said Jason Woywada.

According to The Cowichan School District, the video is only seen by those authorized.

The Sooke School District installed similar surveillance cameras on their school buses in 2019.

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