Police across Canada are threatening citizens' freedom to photograph

    1 of 1 2 of 1

      In any society where the police, military or government hold inordinate power over the people, there are restrictions on the right to take and publish photographs, especially when those pictures prove embarrassing or incriminating to those in charge. One sure measure of a society’s freedom is how its leaders react to such images. If the photographers go unpunished, that society is probably a relatively free one. If they go to jail, it definitely isn’t.

      The situation in Canada has reached the point where it needs to be said loudly and clearly: there is no law against public photography in Canada. No one here can ever be arrested for the simple act of making a picture or film, unless other laws are being broken in the process; and police officers who are in uniform and executing their duties in public have no reasonable expectation of privacy.

      The following incidents illustrate why this point needs to be made.

      In 2010, National Post photographers Brett Gundlock and Colin O’Connor were arrested during the Toronto G20 protests while attempting to photograph aggressive police crowd-dispersal tactics. They were never accused of anything except being “amongst violent people.”

      In September of 2012, 16-year-old Jakub Markiewicz was detained by security guards and arrested by police after filming the violent takedown of a man by security guards at Metrotown shopping mall in Burnaby, B.C. Markiewicz was ordered by the guards to delete his footage, but since he was using a film camera, he could not comply. After Markiewicz took a second picture of arriving RCMP officers, he was physically attacked and restrained by security guards. At their request he was then handcuffed by police. Markiewicz was ultimately arrested for causing a disturbance. He was never officially charged.

      On March 26, 2013, a Montreal student named Jennifer Pawluck, 20, an active protester with no criminal record, discovered some graffiti depicting police spokesman Ian Lafrenière with a bullet hole in his head. She took a picture of the image and posted it on Instagram. She was charged with uttering threats against Lafrenière.

      On June 2, 2013, Star photographer Alex Consiglio was arrested at Union Station, put into a headlock, and charged with trespassing after he photographed police officers who were dealing with a disturbance on the tracks.

      What do all these photographers have in common? None of them were breaking any laws at the time of their arrest.

      The most glaring example of why public photography is important is the case of Robert Dziekanski, the Polish man who died after being Tasered by RCMP officers at the Vancouver airport in 2007. Dziekanski’s tasering and subsequent collapse was filmed by Paul Pritchard, who surrendered the video to police with the understanding that they would return it to him in 48 hours. When they did not do so, Pritchard initiated a lawsuit against them. The video was ultimately returned.

      Partly as a result of its existence, the RCMP eventually admitted that they had misled the public in several statements about the Dziekanski incident. They issued an official apology for their actions and agreed to a financial settlement with Dziekanski’s mother. All four officers involved were formally accused of having lied in notes and statements about what happened that day. Without the existence of the Pritchard video, it is certain that the outcome of the investigation would have been different.

      At PEN Canada, a non-partisan organization of writers that seeks to defend the right to self-expression at home and abroad, we are watching incidents like this closely. A recent blog post on the issue at PenCanada.ca received almost 6,000 hits within three days, highlighting the fact that many Canadians are also concerned. Canadians should know that they have the right to take pictures anywhere in public, as long as they are not breaking any other laws. At no time can anyone be arrested for the simple act of taking a picture.

      We don’t recommend aggressively photographing police officers just because you can. We urge restraint, decorum and good judgment. But we also urge everyone to remember that a well-photographed society, which is what we have become whether we like it or not, has the potential to be a good thing, not just an Orwellian nightmare.



      Cynicism or Realism?

      Jul 31, 2013 at 11:59am

      Are the police ignorant of the law or are they simply breaking the law when they try to stop legal public behaviour? As cameras, video and social media are now ubiquitous, it would seem that law, policy and training should be in place for officers to follow. Would it be incredibly cynical to suggest perhaps they do have policy and it involves attempting to restrict the public's rights, as a means to limit their accountability and need to adhere to the law?

      In Canada, the police do not have the right to create the law.

      0 0Rating: 0

      Alan Layton

      Jul 31, 2013 at 12:18pm

      "But we also urge everyone to remember that a well-photographed society, which is what we have become whether we like it or not, has the potential to be a good thing, not just an Orwellian nightmare."

      Maybe it's not an Orwellian nightmare, but it is a nightmare all the same. The act of taking and posting photos online of people without their knowledge or consent is alarming to me. When the laws were made, there was no such thing as the internet, social networks or cellphone cameras. In the past, if your photo was taken in public, chances were that only the photographer and some friends would see them. Now it could be seen by thousands or millions depending on it's virality. The laws need to be changed. Not only are you seen by the masses, but you are also judged and identified so that your reputation can be unfairly smeared, with no way to clear it.


      Jul 31, 2013 at 2:09pm


      If we followed your advice and changed the law, there'd be no news stories or documentaries or street art. The laws are fine as they are, and they serve a crucial role in the openness and transparency in society. They recognize the fact that there can be no reasonable expectation of privacy when you're out and about in a public space. Freedom of the press and freedom of expression are sacred rights that trump any attempt to hamper public photography.

      0 0Rating: 0


      Jul 31, 2013 at 6:32pm

      Do not be too surprised if the scumbags in power make it illegal to photograph,record or draw images of police.
      Look how far its gone already!I cannot believe this is Canada!

      Michele Baillie

      Jul 31, 2013 at 8:18pm

      At best events like those described in this article are heavy handed loyalty to support a fellow police officer....at times police are behaving worse than Organized Crime Groups. I say worse because Police are supposed to know better and be a positive example of a person who honourably put it all on the line (and THANK YOU!) so we all can enjoy the freedom that Just and Fair protection provides.

      Alan Layton

      Jul 31, 2013 at 9:20pm

      RealityCheck - as a long-time ex-amateur street photographer I'm fully aware of the idea behind the laws. I didn't say anything about the press, or freedom of expression. But most of the photos that get posted are not by the press nor by anyone with 'artistic' intentions. Even the current laws have been challenged a number of times and have had to be refined over the years. There are also laws about misrepresenting the person in the photo, but that only applies to the taker and does not take in to account the spin-off dialogue from the posting. The best you can do is to convince the posting site to take it down, but that doesn't prevent it from being reposted from other sites.

      When you talk about no reasonable expectation of privacy when you are out in public, it didn't predict that your every move could be posted for millions to see. Sorry but the laws are outdated and considering that you have to go out in public to live a normal life (such as going to work) I believe that you do have some expectations of not being exploited, degraded or humiliated.

      0 0Rating: 0

      Martin Dunphy

      Jul 31, 2013 at 9:59pm

      Mass media were well-established long before the Internet, and newspapers and television always had the potential to take your image and propagate it "for millions to see". If the laws were any more restrictive, you wouldn't have pictures of the car wrecks, brush fires, and victims of crime that are the staple of Global and CTV every night.
      Come to think of it, maybe that wouldn't be such a bad thing...

      Georgia Straight

      Aug 1, 2013 at 9:44am

      It would be a service to have someone research and write an article on what exactly the law says and allows. Educate us!

      0 0Rating: 0

      Ben Sili

      Aug 1, 2013 at 10:40am

      A rare advocacy article, written intelligently, to the point and sensible. Well done.

      0 0Rating: 0