Yet, increasingly, there are instances of police officers preventing, charging, arresting and sometimes even assaulting members of the public for attempting to take photos or videos of officers at work. Many people comply when police officers instruct them to stop filming because they assume that they must be breaking the law.
No one can interfere when a police officer is executing his or her duties. However, taking photos or videos of an officer in the execution of his or her duties is permitted so long as it does not interfere with their ability to do their job. Police officers do not have a right to seize a camera or delete its contents just because a video or photo of them is taken.
According to section 30 of The Police Services Act’s Code of Conduct in Ontario “an officer engages in discreditable conduct when he or she uses profane, abusive or insulting language or is otherwise uncivil to a member of the public.”
You may be aware of the unfortunate incident in 2007 involving Robert Dziekanski. Mr. Dziekanski was visiting from Poland when he was tasered by the Police at the Vancouver airport and died soon after. The confrontation made headlines when a bystander recorded the incident on his camera and the RCMP seized the equipment. It was only after he threatened court proceedings that the camera was returned to him.
So what should you do if a member of the police force prevents you from recording a video or taking pictures in public while they are performing their duty? To start with, you should be polite and patient at all times. You can respectfully mention that you are within your rights as a Canadian citizen in taking pictures or videos in a public space. You may file a complaint if an officer threatens you. In some cases criminal charges of illegal stop, search and seizure of equipment may be warranted.
In Canada, or anywhere else for that matter, citizens should respect the police, but the police must also respect citizens, even when they are taking pictures or videos that might embarrass the police.