Elite Farm Services workers seen throwing chickens at a Chilliwack farm in undercover video filmed by Mercy for Animals.

Use of body cameras by Fraser Valley chicken catchers violates privacy act

Privacy commissioner releases report into use of employee surveillance prompted by undercover videos

The use of surveillance video by way of body cameras on employees by a Fraser Valley chicken catching company was an inappropriate “quick fix” to stop the problem of animal abuse.

READ MORE: Chilliwack chicken catchers accused of ‘torturing’ birds in undercover videos

That’s according to acting information and privacy commissioner Drew McArthur who said the cameras also violated the Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA),

As soon as a farm services company announced the use of body cameras on chicken catchers in the wake of violent undercover video, B.C.’s privacy commissioner started to investigate the practice.

After undercover footage earlier this year caught chicken catchers at Abbotsford and Chilliwack farms violently abusing birds, the company who employed the workers said it would equip them with body cameras, a move that triggered McArthur to investigate.

“Video surveillance, as we all know, has become pervasive in our society,” McArthur said in a message accompanying a report released Nov. 8. “Too often, organizations like this one turn to surveillance believing it will fix their crisis or problem. Organizations need to understand the privacy risks associated with surveillance and take all reasonable efforts to avoid them.

“We found that the company was not authorized to collect the information under PIPA because the purposes for which it was collecting and using personal information were not reasonable.”

READ MORE: Chicken catchers to wear body cameras following abuse video

Wednesday morning, McArthur released “Investigation Report P17-01: Use of employee surveillance by a B.C. chicken catching organization.”

The report is the culmination of his investigation into whether Elite Services out of Abbotsford was authorized by the PIPA use video surveillance to monitor employees.

Back in June, animal activist group Mercy for Animals released undercover footage that showed live birds being torn apart, stomped and thrown.

WARNING: This video shows disturbing images of animal abuse that may upset some viewers

Following the release of the video, Elite Services president Duane Dueck said the company pledged big changes. Three Elite workers were dismissed, and Dueck said new operating procedures included a video system for the chicken-catching service hired to round up and transport chickens.

That move came on the advice of a crisis management consultant.

“Effective immediately, it will be mandatory for one supervisor and two staff members in each barn to wear cameras on their safety vests to capture the activity within the barn,” said Dueck, in a follow-up news release in June.

Following the media coverage McArthur said this week he was concerned the cameras were “being used as a ‘quick fix,’ without thoughtful consideration of its potential privacy impacts.”

For her part, Mercy for Animals Canada vice-president Krista Hiddema said in June that the use of body cameras was “absolutely ridiculous” without third-party monitoring.

This week she reiterated that.

“Every farm and slaughterhouse in Canada should install video monitoring systems and live-stream the footage to the Internet or a third-party auditing firm to help prevent animal cruelty and increase transparency in food production,” Hiddema said. “Without third-party checks in place, video monitoring will be ineffective.”

McArther’s report found that the company collected personal information without the consent of the recorded individuals, which included employees, farmers and other contractors. The company did not conduct a privacy impact assessment prior to implementing the surveillance and did not have the appropriate policies and procedures in place.

His report comes with seven recommendations, which include stopping the use of video surveillance, deleting stored footage and creating a privacy policy.

The Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner for British Columbia also released a guidance document, Employee Privacy Rights, for organizations considering employee monitoring in this way.

The Progress is waiting for a response from Elite Services to the question of whether it will follow the OPIC recommendations.


@PeeJayAitch
paul.henderson@theprogress.com

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