So why am I not surprised that Halifax's biggest bar is doubling the number of spy cams and giving police full access to its surveillance pix? Well, I'd say it's another sign of the times. Downtown Halifax is already bristling with spy cams, many operated by private firms and others—such as those at Pizza Corner, operated by the police. In this case, the bar complex known as the Liquor Dome (present capacity 1,124 patrons) is going a step further with its plan to operate a total of 64 private cameras and feed their images over the internet to the police. The new cameras should be in place by the end of January, under a deal the Dome worked out to get its booze licence back after a Christmas Eve brawl, in which 38 people were arrested. A few nights earlier, one of the Dome's bouncers had been charged with aggravated assault after a man landed in hospital with serious head injuries. The Dome obviously decided that the best way to curry favour with the Utility and Review Board bureaucrats who licence the booze trade is to come down hard on its patrons. Who cares about the rights of the mainly young customers who frequent the Dome complex, which includes the Attic and Cheers?
With the full approval of the licensing bureaucrats at the UARB, the Dome will impose an automatic lifetime ban "on any person who creates a disturbance within the premises determined by management to warrant a suspension." This is a much tougher policy than the previous one, which tailored the length of the suspension to the severity of the disturbance. "The intent of this policy," the Dome declares, "is that it will result in people thinking twice before they become involved in an incident." The new policy will be enforced using surveillance technology originally installed in 2003 to prevent underage drinking. Since then, patrons entering the Dome have been required to hand over their driver's licences. The Dome's scanning equipment downloads personal info on the licence and compares it with the info already in the bar's database. It can also identify anyone who has been banned and the person will be denied entry. It gets worse. The Dome says it plans to share its list with other downtown bars. Banned at one bar, you could be banned at all. And for what? Creating "a disturbance" or becoming involved in an "incident"? All at some bar manager's discretion, of course. Angry because you gave the bartender $20, but only got change for $10? Well, buddy, don't create an "incident"—or worse still, a "disturbance." The policy is all the more troubling in a city with a long history of
racism—where black people routinely complain about being treated like shit in downtown bars. And as for appealing a lifetime ban, forget it. There is no right of appeal.
The new policies raise another tricky question. The Dome promises to beef up its extra-duty police presence on its busiest nights. Instead of just two cops, the Dome will hire four. The rent-a-cops work in uniform during their days off. They're hired through the police chief and are answerable to the police department, not the private employer who pays for their services. But extra-duty work still creates a potential conflict of interest. Police are part of a justice system that is supposed to be impartial. But if you get into a dispute with bar staff and police are called in, whose side will they take—yours, or the people they get paid to work alongside on their days off?
I know, some readers will repeat the old refrain: Don't worry. If you've done nothing wrong and have nothing to hide, you'll be fine. My answer is that surveillance is about power and in this case we're handing way too much over without any safeguards. The whole Dome/UARB/police deal stinks.