This shot comes in response to the Vancouver Police Department's recent issuing of a refresher bulletin to its members pursuant to an incident involving a local media photographer who was mishandled by officers at the scene of a police shooting of a fleeing suspect. Please read veteran news photographer Jason Payne's account of the confiscation of his camera by police at the scene. Shortly after the incident, VPD Chief Constable Jim Chu offered a public apology to Mr. Payne for the manner in which he was treated.
The VPD refresher bulletin states, "Where the person identifies themselves as a legitimate media person, DO NOT seize their photographic equipment unless there is an imminent public safety issue involved or there are reasonable grounds to believe the evidence will be made unavailable to police (e.g., hidden or destroyed)."
The incident involving Mr. Payne - and two others wherein cameras were seized by police officers at scenes involving the shooting or Tasering of suspects - raised a few questions for David Eby, Executive Director of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association. In a Globe and Mail article, Eby is quoted as stating police believe they can seize cameras that might give evidence of a crime, but points out the courts have limited the scope of that law. “As a citizen, probably the best thing to do is to refuse to turn the camera over and to identify yourself to the police officer and say you're preserving the evidence.” He said the association has demanded clarity regarding when police can take someone's camera, but also believes police should stop investigating themselves when officers use lethal force.
While this is all being sorted out, I have to wonder whether - as a freelancer - I fall into the "legitimate media person" category or whether my equipment may be seized by police without a warrant as is permissible under Section 487.11 of the Criminal Code of Canada should I find myself in a similar circumstance to that of Mr. Payne. I am not a regular employee of a news media outlet, but does it help that I'm a regular contributor of photos to Megaphone? Does my approved application for accreditation with the 2010 International Media Centre render me legit? Does my having received payment for photos used to illustrate news stories that have appeared in the respected online news source The Tyee help at all? Is a business card or City of Vancouver business license adequate? I've got both. Where is the line drawn? How are police supposed to determine who's legitimate and who isn't?
It should be remembered that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees everyone "freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication." That's everyone, not only "legitimate media people." So, to avoid any confusion, the T-shirt is intended to communicate to Vancouver Police my promise not to delete any photographs I may take at crime scenes. I will provide the VPD with the relevant memory card on being served with a warrant. I prefer this to the immediate seizure and possible deletion of my copyrighted images as it affords an opportunity to save them to the hard drive of my business computer.
Note added June 17: It's official: Officers need consent to take camera, cellphones.