A man in the US is facing 75 years in jail for videotaping the police. But here in Canada, things are different. Sort of.
In May, Ottawa entertainer John Akpata stepped out of a bar and witnessed two Ottawa Police Officers beating someone. He got his cell phone out and tried to record the crime-in-progress, but another officer stopped him, and tried to take away his camera/phone.
In the video that Akpata caught, an Ottawa Police Officer can be heard admitting that he is an officer, and then lying and intimidating Akpata. Later, off camera, the officer gave Akpata a fake last name; “Taylor” – similar to his actual first name; “Tyler” – and also gave a bogus badge number “9900”.
Then, Jeff Semple at Ottawa’s CBC filed this inaccurate report of the incident.
I contacted the Ottawa Police and asked for some answers. As a result of my call, new memos were issued instructing officers that they are not allowed to tell people to turn off their cameras, that they should “behave as if they were on camera 24/7”, and that they were not allowed to take people’s devices – UNLESS they had “a reasonable suspicion” that the person would destroy or not hand over the evidence.
And THAT, ladies and gentlemen, is the loophole that police across Canada have been routinely using to take people’s phones and cameras. Sometimes people don’t get their devices back, sometimes they get it back but all the data has been wiped or the hardware has been damaged, or sometimes the cop just smashes the device right there on the scene, as mentioned in the comments section of the CBC article.
This is wrong – categorically wrong – on a number of levels. Not only is it a violation of Canadians’ Charter Rights to be treated as suspects, but it seems that the Ottawa Police have been operating under this illegal – or rather, not-entirely-legal – protocol, for years. So, it seems, have most, if not all, Canadian police departments.
The official word is, the Ottawa Police don’t have a policy regarding cameras and cell phones, or the uploading of footage – but I think it is time that they implemented one. A policy that is legal, set in writing, and fully in compliance with The Canadian Charter of Rights And Freedoms.
It would be naive to think that the police are actually worried about people not handing over footage. I, for one, would be more than happy to hand over the footage I catch, but there is nothing in the law or the police operating manuals that show any valid reason why I should be deprived of my device, or the use thereof, in the meantime.
If I see an arrest go down, and then hand over my camera to the police, I am deprived of that device and the services it provides until the police are done with it. A day? Several days? I find that unacceptable. All the police really need to do is gather information from the witnesses, not take their devices. “Here is my website. Download the raw footage there, officer.”
I think the police know that just about everyone would comply and turn over footage or images if asked to. I suspect that the police are more worried about the footage going public, and have have been using a loophole in the law to cover up potentially or overtly illegal activities. That is how it looks, anyway, and if this is the way the police want to portray themselves to the public, then they should expect resistance.
What I would suggest, to those citizens who can afford it, is to get a live stream account and a device that does live streaming. Then, if you are filming cops and the cop comes up and smashes your phone, the footage will already be saved to the server, not stored in your device. Look on the bright side, too – you might catch footage of something that might completely exonerate a wrongly-accused officer, which, to me, is just as good as catching a bad cop on film. This is not about messing up the police’s job, it is about justice.
Keep in mind, if you interfere in any way with a police officer while he/she is performing his/her duties, that in itself is an offense, so keep your distance when filming.
I plan to send this blog post to all the Ottawa City Councillors, demanding that they, collectively, get involved, and to the Ottawa Police Services Board, and to the Ottawa Police, asking them to get busy putting together a coherent and Constitutional policy.