UVic Campus Security officer photographs Divest protesters outside Michael Williams Building for “personal interest”

Campus News

Director of Campus Security responds that protesters have “no expectation of privacy” on campus

Dozens of students gathered outside the Michael Williams Building in the early hours of Dec. 3, armed with sleeping bags, hand-painted signs, and a collective will to pressure the University of Victoria to divest from fossil fuels. 

While the protesters succeeded in shutting down UVic’s main administrative building for the day by peacefully blockading it, they were not expecting to be photographed — many without their consent — by Campus Security Manager of Parking and Transportation Patrick Seward.

Seward first approached the side entrance of the building and requested to take photos of students surrounding the doors at 7:35 a.m., according to Jason Hemmerling, one of the members of Divest UVic who acted as security liaison.

“Many [students] expressed discomfort with this and said they did not consent to photos being taken of them,” Hemmerling said. “I asked Pat [Seward] what his reasons were for photographing students, to which he replied: ‘for personal interest.’” 

Hemmerling went around the building informing students, many of whom he said were younger and lacked inexperience interacting with authority figures, that they could express their lack of consent if they were uncomfortable with Campus Security approaching them to take pictures.

Seward returned at 10:47 a.m. and began photographing students on a cell phone, despite what Hemmerling described as, “vocal discomfort and wishes that he would not do so.” Out of the 12 students Hemmerling saw photographed at the side and back doors, only one consented to have her photo taken in order to display a sign she was holding.

When Hemmerling asked again the reason for these photographs, Seward declined to comment, asserting only that it was within his legal right to take photographs in a public space.

“Many of the students who were there were unhappy and uncomfortable with this interaction, but could not leave the situation without leaving the doors unattended,” said Hemmerling. 

“This to me, seemed to be an abuse of authority and a sign of disrespect to the students, who have always recognized his wishes for us not to film him.”

When later asked about the photographs, Seward declined to comment and instead referred the Martlet to UVic Media Relations.

Campus Security Manager of Parking and Transportation Patrick Seward speaks with Juliet Watts, UVSS Director of Campaigns and Community Relations, ahead of the September Board of Governors meeting. Photo by Josh Ngenda.

“Taking photographs, recordings or making interview or observation notes during a campus activity such as a protest or blockade is a way for Campus Security Services to document and provide an accurate record of a public event,” said Tom Downie, Director of UVic Campus Security, in a statement.

“There is no expectation of privacy when people demonstrate or protest on campus. While the university is considered private property, it is open to public access,” he wrote. “The pictures become part of the documented report of the event which could, should the report be called upon, be used in further investigation.”

Elora Adamson, the other Divest UVic security liaison at the event, estimated that almost every student outside of the Michael Williams Building at that time on Dec. 3 was photographed by Seward, which she said made a lot of people — including herself — uncomfortable.

“Why a Campus Security officer in uniform on duty is taking photos on his personal iPhone of a lot of young women, as well as other people at the protest, and saying that they’re for his own personal interest has raised a lot of concern among people that were there at the action,” she said, “and a lot of questions about what the photos are actually being used for.”

On Nov. 26, seven students were locked out of the Michael Williams Building by Campus Security officers, who labelled the students a “security threat.” Hemmerling and Adamson were among these students — all members of Divest UVic — who were attempting to deliver pro-divestment letters to the university president following a protest at a UVic Board of Governors meeting where a vote on potential divestment of short-term investments and bonds was postponed. 

Several of the students filmed interactions outside the Michael Williams Building on Nov. 26, although at Seward’s request he was not recorded or filmed after expressing his lack of consent.

“In previous interactions with Pat, we have been very careful to respect his wishes to not be photographed or recorded. We have avoided recording him due to his lack of consent, despite our interactions almost always happening in public areas where we legally could film him,” said Hemmerling.

When Adamson spoke with Seward, she said he alluded to the photos being used for following up on the protest — which is not an unprecedented response from the university.

Students formed a similar picket line around the Michael Williams Building in April to protest the Board of Governors’ international student tuition hikes and ongoing investment in fossil fuels. About a month after, several students — including some whose names had not been identified in relation to this protest — received a letter from the Office of Student Life requesting a meeting.

Adamson did not know any students who received this letter that attended this meeting, but expressed shock and confusion in regards to the mechanism for finding these individual’s email addresses to contact them. She is suspicious of a potential connection between the photos taken by Campus Security and these letters.

“I think some of us are just waiting to get [letters from UVic] again,” Adamson said.

Seward and Campus Security have been present at many of the protests and actions taken by Divest over the past year, particularly rallies during Board of Governors meetings.

“I have been in proximity with him several times and it seems to me, that his relationship with the student body and with Divest, in particular, is one aimed at intimidating students from speaking out or participating in direct action,” Hemmerling said. “It seems clear to me that Campus Security, in this regard, is taking a stance to protect the university’s status quo over recognizing the student body’s wishes.”

As a 22-year-old male, Hemmerling expressed that he finds the idea of a stranger photographing him uncomfortable.

“This interaction would be even more upsetting if I were a female first-year student, worried about my academic future, and having my photo taken by a male 40 something-year-old security officer for ‘personal interest’ despite my lack of consent, and his job to provide protection to the students,” he said.