The shooting of Sammy Yatim provokes a number of uncomfortable questions. Amongst them, what happens when you’re the one with pictures or video of police behaving badly? It’s happening more and more—remember the Kelowna Mountie who kicked a guy in the face, and only got busted because of the video?
In Canada, we actually have some decent rights and protections when it comes to taking pictures of the police—unlike, say, the Sudan. Of course, all the legal rights in the world seem like cold comfort when a purple-faced cop is inches away from your nose and threatening to arrest you for obstruction, so here’s what you need to know
In Canada, you may take pictures in any public place, save some areas run by the defence department. Private property is a different story—a store manager, for example, can tell you to knock off your shutterbuggery. Also, anywhere there’s an expectation of privacy, like a washroom, is off limits.
However, there’s no law preventing you from taking pictures of an officer performing their duties in a public location or your home—and officers in Canada have no expectation of privacy when they’re performing their duties, so you’re set. Also, preventing someone from taking pictures or video violates their charter rights, so there’s that.
An officer cannot take your phone, cannot make you unlock your phone, and cannot make you delete pictures. The only exception is if you’re obstructing justice, so stay out of the way.
About Those Rights . . .
Of course, that’s all great in theory, but in practice, police aren’t always so honest. A cop could theoretically take your camera, delete your pictures, and then claim it never happened. Our theoretical cop could also arrest you on a nonsense charge and release you the next day.
In this case, the best defence is a little technology. Make sure you phone locks, and if you’re worried, text or email your images to a friend. You can also use apps like Dropbox to upload your data to someplace safer than your phone.
You can also invest in a more discreet camera. Memoto is a small clip-on camera that takes a picture every thirty seconds. For something beefier, the Autographer takes pictures constantly. Google Glass, of course, will record everything—though wearing one is fairly noticeable. Finally, you can always invest in a dashcam for your car; if you pick one that records audio, you’ll have a record in case you’re pulled over.
Keeping Cops Honest
Of course, there’s an easier way to do all this: make the cops wear cameras. Rialto, a city in California, requires that it’s police wear always-on video cameras that upload data to a secure central server. So far, it’s been a win-win: citizens have their civil liberties protected, and cops have a new and reliable source of evidence. Other municipalities are looking hard at the idea.
So why not here? Police in Amhurstburg and Calgary are already giving the idea a shot. Given the recent headlines around the use of police force, guys who like the idea ought to speak up now and contact their city councillors, MLAs, and MPs. Until then, invest in a dashcam.