Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Standing Up To Police Abuse Of Authority

I remember a story my son told me of being in a coffee shop in Toronto during the notorious 2010 G20 Summit, about which I have written extensively on this blog. Two police officers came into the shop, one of them noticing my son had his smartphone out. He said to him, "You'd better not be filming us," the threat of confiscation being the apparent subtext. I have always thought of that incident as emblematic of the arrogant abuse of authority that was so much in evidence that weekend, abuse that is becoming increasingly common in our country today. It was also a threat with absolutely no legal basis.

In today's Star, Antonia Zerbisias writes about the public's right to document police actions, a right often impeded by police threating videographers with the rather nebulous obstructing justice charge. The issue has become especially germane in light of the police killing of Sammy Yatim, whose death was captured on video. Were it not for the existence of the video, who knows what 'official story' the public would now be hearing about this tragedy?

... there is no law, says Halifax-based lawyer David T.S. Fraser, that stops citizens from taking photographs or video in a public place. That includes shopping malls, airports, retail outlets and subway stations — unless management, not police, prohibit photography.

“I think it’s as close to an unequivocal right as you can get,” insists Fraser, whose practice focuses on privacy legislation. “As long as you’re in a public place, as long as you are not obstructing the police in the execution of their duties, and as long as you are not creating new risks and dangers, then you have the right to photograph and video-record anybody, including the police — and I would say especially the police.

Fraser goes on to say that for the charge of obstructing justice to stick, “You have to actually intend to obstruct —not just be on the sidelines, but actively interfere.

Concludes Fraser: “I would call for citizens to take more pictures of police officers, to make it more normal and make it more difficult for police officers to intimidate individuals.”

I suspect most of us couldn't agree more.

UPDATE: There is a reasonably interesting piece written by Margaret Wente, whose work I normally disdain and seldom read, on the issue in today's Globe.


  1. We need to remember, Lorne, that officially power still rests with the people, not their elected or appointed representatives.

    1. That is such an important fact that we must never forget, Owen. Too many have made delegation and abdication of power synonymous today. To do so is to ignore both our rights and our responsibilities as citizens.

  2. During G8 and G20 summit there was a lot of police brutality. I understand people from Mississauga and other neighbouring communities stayed away from Toronto city. That is in essence the nature of the Harper regime - police state.

  3. Never was that more apparent than during the G20 abuses, which should have served as a wake-up call for all, Ledaro. What I witnessed on television and in read in the newspaper certainly radicalized me.