Photographing Police in Public View

Canada has been a hotbed of public outcry with regards to its police forces over the last few years, as videos, shot by the public, capture the moments of death with their cellphones and cameras. Just in the last week there was the shooting of a young man , 18 year old Sammy Yastim, who was wielding a knife on a Toronto street car when he was shot nine times, to his death, at point blank range by a Toronto Police officer. Back in 2007. Perhaps the most highest profile of extreme use of force by the police caught on video was Mr. Robert Dziekanski, a Polish visitor, at the Vancouver International Airport in Richmond BC, who died from multiple taser shocks while he was wrestled to the ground by four RCMP officers.

The capturing of images of police incidences, coupled with the Internet, has changed the face of Canada’s Police forces forever. Had the video of Mr. Robert Dziekanski never happened, odds are the public inquiry and public outcry would have never happened either. The video, when released by the RCMP was made public soon after, and made most viewers horrified at whet they saw. It was not the issues that the police showed up and were about arrest the traveller at YVR (Vancouver International Airport), but it was the way in which they did it. The video clearly shows an extreme use of force that most viewers say was totally unnecessary. The homicide of the unarmed man, being tastered multiple times until he died, drew questions as to just what is going on with police forces such as the RCMP, and how they interact with the public. The question asked was, could Mr. Robert Dziekanski be alive today if the RCMP simply talked to him, trying to communicate with him, subduing the situation with words rather then brute force? All of this would have not have being possible if a traveller did not shoot the indecent with his camera.

The right to take photos, including videos, is surprisingly murky with most people that I talk to. However, the rules are basic and simplistic, in my opinion. I can shoot photos of just about anything, providing I (or you) have a right to be at the location, and some basic rules are met, such as not violating someone expected right to privacy. Intent is a big factor too, such as why am I shooting a photo, what am I going to do with it, and will I cause hardship to that person, or property with that image. I found this cool blog that lists the basics of what rights a photographer has in Canada, and I believe it is worthy to post it here on my Blog.

From the “Canadian Privacy Law Blog” (August 23, 2012):

Here’s a summary of what Canadians should know about this:

  • There is no law in Canada that prevents a member of the public from taking photographs or video in a public place (other than some limitations related to sensitive defense installations);

  • There is no law in Canada that prevents a member of the public from taking photographs or video of a police officer executing his or her duties in public or in a location lawfully controlled by the photographer (in fact, police officers have no privacy rights in public when executing their duties);

  • Preventing a person from taking photos or video is a prima facie infringement of a person’s Charter rights;

  • You cannot interfere with a police officer’s lawful execution of his or her duties, but taking photos or videos does not, in and of itself, constitute interference;

  • A police officer cannot take your phone or camera simply for recording him or her, as long as you were not obstructing;

  • These privileges are not reserved to media — everyone has these rights;

  • A police officer cannot make you unlock your phone to show him or her your images; and

  • A police officer cannot make you delete any photos.

Please read the whole page from the blog, it is fascinating information for anyone who shoots a camera in Canada and finds themselves in a situation where they witness a horrific event, such as a police incidence, like the two I mention above.

Now for my personal experience with photographing the police during an event.

This happened in Langley City, BC seven years ago. It was at the intersection of 200th street and Fraser Highway, in Langley City, when out of nowhere four police officers tackled a motorcycle driver from off of his bike onto the road. I was stopped waiting for the single light to turn Green on Fraser right behind the motorcyclist. I had a cheap point’n’shoot camera with me, and after 30 seconds when I finally got the video mode to work, I held up the camera to record the event. It was at that time that an RCMP officer banged on my window telling me to stop shooting with my camera, saying that I would be detained, and could be charged for obstructing a police officer. I rolled up the window so she could not grab me, and I kept on shooting. She banged again, ordering me to stop filming, and I ignored her; I could not go anywhere anyway becuase the whole intersection was stopped because of the police blocking the traffic. It was about 10 seconds after she made her command that her co-worker told her to leave it (meaning me) and deal with getting the traffic moving again. The Male officer tapped on my window, asking me if I would would be so kind to giving him my Identification, as a witness to the biker’s arrest. I gave the constable my driver’s license, but never heard back from the RCMP again about it. The whole video was botched anyway as the poor camera had difficulties focusing through the widow of my vehicle. I got great shots of dust, bug spatters on my windshield, and my rear-view mirror, but not so much of the mounties wrestling the biker on the grown. Nothing much happened to the biker either, has he was quickly handcuffed, and taken away to an awaiting police car.

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