CJFE protests Toronto Police seizure of protest footage

Thursday, July 27, 2000

Toronto Chief of Police Julian Fantino
40 College St.
Toronto, Ontario
M5G 2J3
Fax: (416) 808-8002
E-mail:officeofthechief@torontopolice.on.ca

Cc: Toronto Police Services Board
Mr. Justice Archie Campbell, Superior Court of Justice
Prime Minister Jean Chretien
Management of:
The Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail, The National Post, The Toronto Sun, CBC, CTV, Global Television, City-TV, ONtv, CFMT television, Sing Tao, World Journal Daily News, Corriere Canadese, Ming Pao

Chief Fantino,

Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) is deeply concerned over the seizure of news film and videotape shot at the June 15 anti-poverty protest at Queen's Park by Toronto police from Canadian media outlets. CJFE is an independent organization which promotes freedom of expression worldwide according to the precepts of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We view the seizure of media film and videotapes for the purposes of a police investigation to be a gross infringement on media freedom and independence.

CJFE is alarmed by the use of search warrants by police to seize protest images and media equipment from fourteen Canadian media outlets. According to our information, these include The Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail, The National Post, The Toronto Sun, CBC, CTV, Global Television, City-TV, ONtv, CFMT television, Sing Tao, World Journal Daily News, Corriere Canadese, an Italian language paper, and Ming Pao, a Chinese daily. We are aware that eight of these outlets are currently challenging the search warrants as unlawful in the Superior Court of Justice.

In document sworn to support the application for the search warrants, Toronto police stated that they required media photographs and videotape to help identify participants at the June 15 protest, as media were able to get closer to the demonstrators than police. Police also stated that their own footage, obtained by seven police videocameras, a still photographer and plainclothes officers with disposable cameras, was not sufficiently clear for their purposes. Clearly, police require media images in order to aid in charging demonstrators. CJFE considers this to be a disturbingly inappropriate treatment of the media. The role of the media in a democratic society is not to act as agents of the police, nor to aid in police investigations. It is imperative that the media's independence be respected both for the sake of credibility and to ensure journalists' safety.

Following so closely on the pepper-spraying of eight photographers by police at the protest of the OAS in Windsor on 4 June, this incident betrays a pattern of growing disregard for media freedom in Canada. We are also aware that this is not the first time that Canadian media outlets have been served with search warrants in connection with a police investigation. Such disregard for the professionalism of journalists by police amounts to an international disgrace for Canadians.

CJFE fully supports the court challenge to the search warrants launched by eight of the affected media outlets. We also urge that all news film seized in connection with the June 15 protest be immediately sealed and returned, along with all media equipment obtained by police. Police should not be allowed to use any of the seized materials to investigate the protest. We further insist that action be taken to ensure that journalists and media outlets are not targeted to provide evidence in future police investigations.

Yours Sincerely,

Sharmini Peries
Executive Director, CJFE

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