City takes first step in creating Internet Exchange Zone

Prince Albert residents who buy or sell used goods on the internet will soon be able to finalize those deals is a safe public area, however there are concerns about who is liable if a deal goes wrong.

On Sept. 8, city council voted to take the first steps in creating a face-to-face Internet Exchange Zone outside the main Prince Albert Police Service building on 15th Street East.

Ward 6 Coun. Blake Edwards was responsible for bringing the idea before council. He said constituents in his ward noticed the zones popping up around Canada, and believed they would provide an added layer of safety for those buying and selling used goods locally.

“There are people who are nervous about others going to their home, or attending (another) home, and I think this will help,” Edwards said in an interview on Tuesday. “The market is there for the internet exchange…. Often you can get good deals, so if you can do it in a safer area, I think it’s a good idea.”

However, opponents worry what will happen if residents still get threatened robbed or attacked while in a supposedly safe zone.

Mayor Greg Dionne was the most vocal opponent of the proposal. He said there are still too many unanswered questions.

“If I advertise that you can come and make exchanges here (and say) ‘this is an exchange zone’ and you got to that exchange zone and you get robbed and assaulted, where’s the liability?” Dionne said in an interview. “Is it the City’s fault.”

Edwards said he’s not worried about the City being sued.  The exchange zone’s purpose is to make things safer, but he said the City wasn’t guaranteeing a perfect wall of protection.

“We’re providing a location where people (can meet) and that’s where we’re at,” he explained. “I don’t believe the sign will say ‘Internet Safe Exchange Zone’. It’s going to be and Internet Exchange Zone, but it’s going to be at the police station, so if I’m a user, I’m going to feel a lot safer that if people are attending my home.”

Prince Albert city solicitor Mitch Holash told council none of the signs or city communications would identify the zone as “safe”. The goal was simply to give residents a public place to meet.

“It will be a parking space available for it, and there are cameras that will be monitoring it. That’s all we’re communicating to the public—that this is a space where people have an opportunity to exchange.”

Council considered two possible locations for an exchange zone before settling on the Prince Albert Police Service parking lot on 15th Street East. The other was near the Prince Albert Police building on 10th Street East. Administration recommended both locations after discussions with PA Police.

Edwards said they would consider opening a second exchange zone if the first one proved successful.

“I think at this time having the one location was the right choice,” he said. “There were two locations that were recommended, but I think that we need to start with one specific location, just to see how it goes, and see if people are utilizing it first of all.”

Edwards added that he believes having a police presence near the zone would help deter any criminal activity.

The zone hours of operation have not been set yet. Council has asked for further input from the Prince Albert Police Service before making a decision. There is also no set date for when the exchange will open.

A spokesperson for the Prince Albert Police Service said the department has no data about how many crimes are committed during internet exchanges since they don’t track them.

“Police would respond to the incident, but don’t often know why the incident happened, or whether it had to do with a buy or sell transaction,” the spokesperson wrote in an email.

Multiple cities around Canada have created Internet Exchange Zones as a way to increase safety when purchasing used goods on sites like Facebook or Kijiji. The latest came in Edmonton, when police reserved two stalls for internet exchanges in March 2020.

The decision came after police laid 218 charges and made 77 arrests in cases related to face-to-face buying and selling of online items in 2019. The area is monitored with cameras, however officers are not present on site.

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