Can you film police while on the job?

Toronto police car seen in downtown near Yonge and Dundas streets.
Given the electric and emotional relationship between civilians and police south of the border, the events that transpired thankfully did not escalate further. Reuters photo.

A disturbing video making the rounds on social media appears to show a Toronto police officer attempting to arrest a suspect at a liquor store while fending off verbal abuse from bystanders.

The video, posted online this week, raises interesting questions on recording police while they carry out their jobs: Iis it legal and what are the consequences of capturing the cops?

According to privacy lawyer David Fraser, writing on his Canadian Privacy Law Blog, “there is no law in Canada that prevents a member of the public from taking photographs or video of a police officer executing his or her duties in public or in a location lawfully controlled by the photographer (in fact, police officers have no privacy rights in public when executing their duties).”

Fraser also notes that “you cannot interfere with a police officer’s lawful execution of his or her duties, but taking photos or videos does not, in and of itself, constitute interference.”

While the person recording the video may not have interfered with the officer’s duties, he or she should note they could be called as a witness to the events if it becomes a criminal case before the courts.

As seen in the video, one bystander did get too close for comfort, attempting to prevent the officer from making an arrest, has been arrested. Andrew Burger, 41, will likely be charged with obstructing police.

Given the electric and emotional relationship between civilians and police south of the border, the events that transpired thankfully did not escalate further.

Smartphone videos are important and valuable tools for both sides of the issue, but only as long as they help form the narrative each side is trying to push.

The takeaway from this unfortunate event is that whipping out your iPhone to record an arrest may get you 15 minutes of social media fame, but often no thought is put into the what, where, and why of police work, especially arrests. In this case, Toronto police have said the arrest is lawful.
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