To film or not to film? Edward Prutschi Chimes In

Are you legally allowed to record the activities of police officers?

The Sun’s Joe Warmington reports today about a conflict between Newstalk1010 radio host John Downs and the police that involves this issue.

We are often on camera in public; at the bank, on the street, etc.

There’s nothing we can do about it, even if we carry a badge and a gun, but do the police have the power to order someone to stop recording what they’re doing?

Toronto Police Association President Mike McCormack says, “Unless the public is interfering with the police, the public can film whoever they want,” in public.

McCormack says police may tell people to move back if an officer feels the individual doing the recording is interfering with the officer’s lawful duties, if the person could be hurt, or if he or she is disturbing evidence. People must give police officers room to do their jobs.

But the officer must be able to give a legitimate, legal reason to tell a person to move, and cannot tell the individual to stop recording, McCormack says.

McCormack says police have to deal with the reality of cameras, and officers are told that if they don’t want to see what they are doing played on the news, “don’t do it.”

Criminal lawyer Edward Prutschi says people have a right to record in any public place, meaning a place they can enter without having to ask permission. In his view, this would include, for example, a mall.

Prutschi believes there is a lack of training for police officers regarding citizen “reporting” of a police scene.

He says during the G-20 in Toronto in 2010, there were instances where police were asked by citizens with cameras and cellphones, “What is the legislation that prevents me from recording?” to which some officers replied, “Because I said so.”

“Because I said so,” is not Canadian law.

Asked what he would do if he were told by an officer to stop recording, Prutschi said, “I hope I would have the courage to stand up for my rights and ask for a legal reason why I should stop. In the absence of a clearly articulable legal reason, the (filming) goes on.”

There were at least two videos of the fatal police shooting of Sammy Yatim on a downtown streetcar on July 27.

Yatim had been reported as exposing himself, threatening passengers and brandishing a knife.

The videos and other evidence resulted in Toronto police Const. James Forcillo being charged with second-degree murder. The charge has yet to be proven in court.

Recordings can also work to the advantage of the police. For example, Prutschi described an incident in which a man being processed at a jail severely head-butted the officer unlocking his cuffs, with the incident caught on tape.

Prutschi believes the video shows the officer’s immediate desire to retaliate physically but, possibly aware there was a camera recording the incident, pushing the man into a cell instead.

As a result, the officer had nothing to worry about while the prisoner faced an additional charge.

Native protesters in New Brunswick stopped Sun News reporters Kris Simms and Josh Skurnik from recording their activities last week.

Despite the fact private citizens have no right to stop other people from recording activities taking place in a public space, police offered the reporters no assistance.