Hidden camera at Minto Plaza
Toronto Star
By: Joe Fiorito Columnist
23 June 2014

There is a highrise condo in the heart of downtown; 38 Elm, known as Minto Plaza; squeaky clean, nicely appointed, with a concierge.

Big Brother lives there.

I have sources in the building who said they had read earlier stories about
the spy cams in the City Park Co-op, and they wanted me to know that it isn’t just in rent-geared-to-income properties that there is skulduggery and spying going on.

They said there is a spy cam outside a woman’s apartment on one of the upper floors of 38 Elm. The camera is one of those things disguised as a smoke detector, with the lens trained on the woman’s door, and they said I should come and take a look.

I said I was on my way.

My sources, fearful of reprisal from the condo board, were nervous when I arrived; they met me in secret and admitted me to the building in such a way that no one saw us enter. They led me up the back stairs and we took separate elevators to the floor in question because they did not want to be seen with me.

I don’t care who sees me. I always hope to be seen. I was merely sorry that I had not worn my cloak and dagger.

We met again on the appointed floor. They told me which apartment was the one. I walked over and looked up and voila — a surreptitious camera, disguised as a smoke detector.

First things first: I knocked on the door; nobody home. I stepped back and looked up again.

The so-called smoke detector was installed in the ceiling near an actual state-of-the-art smoke detector, one that was wired into the building’s fire alarm system.

The question, if you think about it, is this: why would anyone put what looks like an off-the-shelf smoke detector near a state-of-the-art, hard-wired smoke detector?

I wanted to be certain of what I was looking at. I just happened to have a couple of plastic buckets with me, to serve as a makeshift stepstool; the buckets, courtesy of my sources. No, this job is not all glamour.

I stepped up, a foot on each bucket, and peered into the camera port. Hi, Mr. Spy, this is me; then I slapped some masking tape on the camera port, popped open the “detector” with a little screwdriver and lo, I saw a bunch of electronics which could sniff no smoke in a million years, but which could record and transmit images.

I put the cover plate back on, stepped down, wrote a note on the back of my business card and slipped it under the woman’s door, inviting her to call.
She has not called.

I am reliably informed that a couple of hours later someone came and removed the masking tape. I wonder who did that?

I have some questions: who put the camera there, and why? In pursuit of an answer, I called Michael Furey, the president of the board of the condo corporation. He suggested the occupant might have wanted it installed.

Then I called the property manager, Massimo Musso. He said that the camera had been installed at the request of the police, and he gave me the name of a detective from 52 Division.

OK, but if the police wanted it there, why did the condo corporation pay for it? He had no answer.

So I called Detective Rinkoff of 52 Division who said that he surely did not recommend that the property manager install a spy camera at 38 Elm. Then he backed up and said, well, there had been a complaint from someone in the building, and then he inched forward and said that if I wanted to know any more I’d have to file a Freedom of Information request, which is cop talk for “get lost.”

An aside: I now have a new understanding of the use of spy cams from a police perspective. While the cops may say they don’t suggest that anyone install such devices in highrises, there is an awful lot of nudging and winking going on when they say it.

Finally, I spoke to a board member who prefers to remain anonymous. He said the issue of the spy cam had come up at a meeting a year ago, but he did not recall it with much clarity, nor did he pay it much attention at the time. But he said, on reflection, that he did not endorse the idea of spy cams anywhere in the building where there is an expectation of privacy.

And that last point, by the way, is a key part of the condo corporation’s policy on security — no cameras where there is an expectation of privacy.
So who installed the phony smoke detector, and why, and who is watching, and what is happening with the images, and do the cops approve of this stuff or do they not?

All I know for sure is this: the fake smoke detector is still there, and it is still operational, and it has been in place for roughly a year, and it cost a thousand dollars just to purchase it, which means that all the good people who live in that building have had a portion of their fees spent to spy on one resident for reasons unknown.

Why are there no rules against this stuff? Oh, and one last thing: is it going on in the building where you live?

If so, do tell.

Email: jfiorito@thestar.ca

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