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Tuesday, April 07, 2009

BCCLA demands clarification of Vancouver Police policy on seizing cameras

The BC Civil Liberties Association filed a complaint today with the Vancouver Police Board, asking them to clarify Vancouver Police Department policy on seizing cameras. The BCCLA says that Sunday’s allegation by a Vancouver Province photographer brings to three the number of high-profile allegations against the VPD concerning the seizure of cameras in recent memory.

“Now a citizen and two media outlets have made high profile and serious allegations against the VPD concerning police interference in their right to videotape events in the public domain,” said David Eby, Executive Director of the BCCLA. “This is a troubling pattern that the Police Board should move to address proactively.”

• In December of 2007, a Channel M videographer alleged that he was detained for several hours and had his camera seized after he filmed police activity after a police shooting in Vancouver;

• In March of 2009, Adam Smolcic, a citizen of Vancouver, alleged that a Vancouver police officer took his cellphone and erased video he had taken of the police shooting of Michael Hubbard;

•  In April of 2009, a Vancouver Province photographer alleged he was threatened with a criminal charge and assaulted when he refused to turn his camera over to police after taking pictures following a police shooting.

“All of these allegations involved taking pictures of Vancouver Police officers either using lethal force or investigating another officer who had used lethal force,” said Eby. “These incidents are not a time for reduced accountability. We need Police Board clarity on when the police may, and may not, seize someone’s camera, and of course we need the police to stop investigating themselves when they use lethal force.”

Posted by Matthew Johnston

Posted by westernstandard on April 7, 2009 | Permalink


I have to admit, the Vancouver cops have been downright thuggish lately. First a report of a cell phone seized (and erased), which would seem to constitute the indictable offence of destroying evidence; then a news photographer manhandled and his camera confiscated (albeit temporarily) for, well, what exactly?

Not "obstructing justice"; that's for sure. According to section 139 of the Criminal Code, obstructing justice is interfering with the functioning of a lawful court: tampering with, bribing, or intimidating witnesses, juries, or court officials, things of that sort. It has nothing to do with police at all. There is a separate offence of obstructing an officer under section 129, but to argue that taking photographs constitutes obstruction is a pretty long stretch. And then there is the Constitutional protection against unreasonable search and seizure.

The cops had better start taking better care of their reputation. I've respected them all my life, even defended them when most others would not have. And in the very face of a cynicism born of seeing a lifetime of media-manufactured crises, even I am beginning to doubt their professionalism and their forbearance. Several former police officers have also decried the precipitous decline of policing standards. The picture they present is that of an increasingly paranoid force that lives in constant fear of the people they are paid to protect, a fear which makes them nervous, touchy, and potentially brutal.

To begin with, shooting someone fatally at a range of ten metres because he's holding an X-Acto knife just doesn't hold water. If he had taken even one step towards the officer, that would have been another story; once moving, a fit suspect can close ten metres in a second and a half. But he simply stood there, unmoving, a tableau that apparently held for half a minute or more. The officer in question was a woman. Would a male officer have shot? I don't know. But many women, even female police officers, harbour a deep-seated and instinctive fear of male violence.

The tasering at the airport is another case in point. The tasering itself was not unjustified, although that seems to be what has caused most of the outrage. But their failure to properly supervise their prisoner most certainly was. This man was basically neglected to death, and whether they meant to or not, they caused that death. And then, having been cleared of all charges, they had the unmitigated temerity and lack of professionalism to lie under oath to a commission with no power to prosecute them. Their excuse? They were afraid of a stapler. (Again, fear.)

Apparently it's no longer required to point a firearm or drive a car at a police officer in order to get shot. Brandishing common household or office tools will also do. And this at a time when officers carry submachine guns, pistols with twenty-plus rounds, and full torso armour where they used to carry a stick, a six-shot revolver, and enough diplomatic skill to seldom require the use of either.

I still respect the cops, but I'm beginning to wonder if I, even as a stringently law-abiding man, can trust them.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2009-04-07 2:44:10 PM

"I still respect the cops, but I'm beginning to wonder if I, even as a stringently law-abiding man, can trust them."

If I were a cop, I would take this to heart. When law and order conservatives begin to lose confidence in the conduct of the police, it's time for them to clean up their act.

Let's be candid, though. Police are the enforcement arm of government. They are only ever as just as the people for whom they work.

Posted by: Matthew Johnston | 2009-04-07 3:26:11 PM

Maybe not having been brought up in North America gives me a different outlook on this. But I never considered cops "special". The "hero worship that exists in North America for this "profession" I always found laughable.

In Europe (outside the anglo-sphere), cops / police are agents of the state. I have never met a cop in my travels in Europe who was so full of themselves as the average cop I have witnessed in North America.

It starts with a general "combative stance" as the cops would describe it, to the way the uniforms, squad cars etc. are set up.

There was a nice op-ed in the National Post a few weeks ago with regards to the Braidwood(sp?) inquiry and a wonderful conclusion: North America needs to lose it's hero worship of the police profession.

I think that would be a good start, followed right by changing the way policing works, getting rid of the "us against them" attitude that seems to exist within the police force. Get them out of the cop cars would be a good start and have them being part of the community would go long ways to change things.

And for crying out loud, every time I see one of the cops in Vancouver they look like they are part of the riot squat, the only thing missing are the helmets and the drawn baton. Give them some uniforms that are less paramilitary.

Posted by: Snowrunner | 2009-04-08 1:10:38 AM

We would have about 50% more people trusting the cops, and being willing to help them, if we ended the war on drugs. The war on drugs breeds disrespect of police and the law in general. From an early age, a large number of people start learning to avoid the police and see them as an adversarial force. They get used to hiding their activities from police and see their friends and family do the same. One of the worst things someone can be is a rat, or a person that talks to the police. This us vs them mentality comes directly from the cops drugwar activities.

Almost nobody would hate or fear the police if they were only investigating REAL crimes, and helping victims get justice. It would no longer be such a social faux-pas to be seen as a person who gives the police information to solve a crime.

When our cops start serving and protecting us from others and stop trying to "protect" us from ourselves, they will get some respect, until then they are like some kind of nazi health enforcement officers. Next thing you know they will be arresting 300lb people for eating cheeseburgers.

Posted by: DrGreenthumb | 2009-04-08 10:49:06 AM

The BC Police Can Seize Your Camera And Delete Images Without A Warrant.

Did you notice the bad advice the Vancouver Sun is giving the public?

They're giving photographers the impression that they can stand up to the police regarding their photographic/charter rights:

From the Sun story - "Photography in public places is not a crime"

"Consequently, all people, not just media photographers, should rest assured that they have the right to take pictures of police, and, except in rare circumstances, to maintain control of those pictures until they're presented with a search warrant." "Your camera is yours, and don't let anyone, including the police, tell you otherwise."

...and now - some poor photographer is gonna follow their advice and get shot or tasered trying to hang onto their camera.

I'm baffled that nobody, not even the local papers is willing to print anything about my case, considering the relevance to current headlines - and that my harassment is worse, ongoing, and targeted. The Sun has not even published a letter I sent them responding to the above mentioned article. I guess I must be "a rare circumstance" that the police and the media don't talk about.

Here's a small sample of my Police experiences:
*Many times I've been stopped and searched, my person, my backpack, my camera images.
*I've had my art investigated and commented on negatively, in writing, by the Chief of Police after filing Police Complaints.
*I've had to physically wrestle over my camera with a Vancouver Police Officer on Granville street and was forced to delete an image.
*I've been stopped by Victoria Police and had my camera ripped from my hands and had images erased while receiving many repeated threats from Officers of the Law. (it's a good thing I don't carry a stapler)

Here's what the Police Complaints Commissioner had to say about my case:

"Although Cst. Hynes had the power to seize Dean's entire camera, it appears that he inconvenienced Dean less by simply deleting the images in question and then returning the camera to him."
(Police Complaints Commission)

Here's what the BCCLA had to say about my complaint:

"Your complaint and the outcome is a classic example of why we have no faith in the police complaints system in B.C."
(David Eby, Executive Director of the BC Civil Liberties Association)

...and nobody is printing the reality, but worse, they provide the ignorant with false hope and bravado. Soon we'll be reading about the justifiable death of a photographer, who tried to hold onto his camera and Charter Rights.

Posted by: Bruce Dean | 2009-05-08 1:05:11 PM

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