Mosquito devices that are said to deter young people were turned back on at Kerrisdale annex last week not long after a vandalism incident on its playground in early May that caused $3,000 in damage.
The Vancouver school district also plans to turn devices on at Henderson elementary after a fire over the Victoria Day long weekend caused roughly $15,000 in damage. Vandals broke a window and tossed a small incendiary device into a classroom.
School district spokesman Kurt Heinrich said there isn’t a direct connection between the vandalism at Henderson and the lack of a Mosquito, as the police didn’t catch the vandals.
But the district expects to reactivate more devices at other school sites in the next few weeks following discussions with the school communities and signs going up, according to Heinrich.
Thirty-three Mosquito units, which emit an annoying sound at a frequency heard almost exclusively by young people, were installed at 19 school board sites to crack down on vandalism and loitering. They operated from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. District staff unplugged them in March, while it investigated health, human rights and consultation concerns.
The units, which were installed by district staff, had proliferated without public consultation or the board’s knowledge. A decision on whether to scrap them or plug them back in wasn’t expected until June, while district staff gathered more information about health and legal concerns. The matter was scheduled to be brought back to June’s planning and facilities committee meeting.
Heinrich said district management decided to look at reconnecting the Mosquito devices at additional school sites other than Kerrisdale annex earlier this week in light of the Henderson fire.
“By that time we had received information from both the health authority and our legal counsel. We were initially going to implement these changes in June, but due to the recent vandalism incident, we decided to accelerate the timeline,” he said.
Heinrich added the district is committed to “clarity and transparency” on Mosquito use and guidelines have been developed to govern future installation of units, including standards for installation and operation, signs and consultation with school communities to ensure they’re aware of the devices and supportive of them.
“Armed with these guidelines around proper usage we’re going to be discussing the reconnection of Mosquitoes with school communities where there is high risk of vandalism through our administrators and the school PAC. This will be happening in the coming weeks,” he said.
David Eby, executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, is disappointed at the district’s decision. The association opposes Mosquitoes on human rights grounds, arguing they target a specific age group unfairly.
“While we’re very disappointed, it’s entirely predictable that they would do this because they spent I understand at least $5,000 per device, so they’ve invested $150,000 on this project. They’re not going to give it up without a fight,” Eby said, adding he wants to read the school board’s legal opinion.
“I look forward to seeing how they can justify punishing youth differently than adults for violating bylaws especially given the constitutional guarantees of equality that they’re operating under.”
Eby argues there’s also no proof Mosquitoes eliminate all of the vandalism problem, pointing he saw a figure it’s only around 50 per cent, while motion detectors that trigger a police response could actually catch vandals and prevent vandalism.
“What I’m looking for and what the organization is looking for is some leadership from the school board,” Eby said.
Board chair Patti Bacchus, a Vision Vancouver trustee, said the matter will still be discussed at the June planning and facilities committee meeting.
“At this point the board hasn’t given any formal direction to management on any use at all. It’s still, ‘Tell us more.’ So the operational side has been a management decision to date. They decided to unplug them. They’ve decided now to turn some back on after complaints of vandalism,” she said.
Bacchus noted district management emailed trustees about their plans, asking if there were any objections.
“I haven’t seen any objections so it’s still being handled as an operational issue. Whether trustees decide to make it something more formal when it comes back is really up to the board but it hasn’t happened yet. So it could go either way.”