CJFE Condemns Vancouver Police's Abuse of Journalist's Rights

Wednesday, April 8, 2009
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) condemns the seizure of a photojournalist's camera by Vancouver police which we consider to be an infringement of the journalist's free expression rights. On Sunday, April 5, Jason Payne, a veteran photojournalist with the Vancouver Province, came upon a crime scene near his home in Vancouver and proceeded to take photographs. He states that as a photojournalist with 16 years experience, he was careful not to obstruct the police in the course of his work. However, when police noticed him taking photographs they demanded that he turn over his camera. Payne identified himself as a press photographer and refused; he was then told by the police officer, "If you don't give me your camera we'll arrest you for obstruction of justice." Payne contacted his newspaper, seeking legal advice. The paper's lawyer informed them that police could not confiscate the camera unless they arrested Payne or had a warrant. Payne reports that the police officer's response was "I wasn't aware the press had any special privilege under the Charter of Rights." Payne was handed back the camera about an hour later, after the police had reviewed the footage. "The police practice of obstructing journalists engaged in crime reporting is disturbingly common in Canada," CJFE Board member and journalist Kelly Toughill says. She adds "granted, it's not always comfortable having your work scrutinized, but police wield extraordinary power, and scrutiny by the media is an important and necessary safeguard." In the case of Jason Payne for instance, the police had just shot a suspect - a situation which clearly demands scrutiny and the highest level of transparency. In recent years, there have been several instances of journalistic equipment seized by the police, and in some cases journalists have also been detained and even arrested. There appears to be at best ignorance, and at worst, flagrant disregard by the police about the rights of the press to record and report on incidents involving the police. CJFE calls upon the Vancouver police and police departments across the country to ensure that their officers are given comprehensive training that sets out the rights of the media. We also expect that police will be held accountable if they flout these rights. CJFE looks forward to the results of an internal investigation that the Vancouver police has indicated it will be holding.

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