Ottawa Police Services filming a gathering of some 8,000 people mourning the loss of Indigenous children. Image: Brent Patterson/Used with permission

The surveillance of racialized peoples has a long history.

The Financial Times recently reported: “The lantern laws of 17th- and 18th-century America, for example, required slaves to carry a lantern or candle if they were walking at night without a white owner.”

In the 19th century, the pass system came into effect in Canada as a security measure to track the movements of Indigenous peoples.

Filmmaker Alex Williams has highlighted that the pass system began after the North-West Rebellion in 1885 and was in place for more than 60 years.

The pass system, stipulated in the Indian Act, meant that an Indigenous person who wanted to leave their community needed a pass approved by an Indian agent stating the purpose and duration of their leave. For example, a parent trying visit their child who had been forcibly taken from them to a residential school would require a pass to travel to see them.

The Canadian Encyclopedia further notes: “It aimed to prevent large gatherings, seen by many white settlers as a threat to their settlements.”

It is in this context that the Ottawa Police Service had several officers videotaping Indigenous peoples and allies at the Every Child Matters walk to Parliament Hill on July 1.

This was a large Indigenous gathering to mourn the children who died in the genocide at residential schools.

Allies who tried to block the cameras with “Land Back” and “No Pride in Genocide” signs were subjected to aggressive police actions including the weaponization of their bicycles to push them away from interfering with their filming.

Video surveillance has profound implications for everyone.

Harmit Kambo of Privacy International says: “Imagine going to a peaceful protest and having to show your ID to the police before you can join it. Or having to fill out a form about why you are attending that particular protest. Sounds absurd, right?”

But technology is creating a comparable situation.

Video from protests can be used in conjunction with facial recognition technology and even gait recognition technology (that can analyze the shape of your body and the unique way in which it moves) to identify people without consent or knowledge and without probable cause or indication of wrongdoing.

Kambo comments: “Perhaps you might think twice about even attending a protest because you don’t want to trade your right to protest with your right to privacy.”

Privacy International has also highlighted: “Unjustified interferences with privacy prevent the enjoyment of other rights and they often provide the gateway to the violation of the rest of human rights freedom of movement, principle of non-discrimination, as well as political participation.”

The Ottawa Police Service filming — without adequate transparency and accountability — the stream of an estimated 8,000 people who came to mourn a genocide enabled by the pass system can be understood as both a continuation of Indian Act surveillance and a warning about the technology-enabled infringement of the right to protest.

Brent Patterson is the executive director of Peace Brigades International-Canada. You can follow them on Twitter at @PBICanada.

Image: Brent Patterson/Used with permission

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Brent Patterson

Brent Patterson is a political activist and writer. He has worked in solidarity with revolutionary Nicaragua, advocated for the rights of prisoners in jails and federal prisons, taken part in civil...