On July 4, 2012 I was taking some photos with my cell phone at a fashion show on Stephen Avenue in downtown Calgary, Alberta. Sadly, I left my DSLR at home. After I gave up (due to a low quality camera, and too crowded to get clear shots), I met a couple people who are clearly in the wrong profession.
This is Constable M. Ponting, badge #4850, of the Calgary Police Service. He and his partner, Constable C. Robinson #3813, detained me for taking "improper photographs". Based on self-education, I knew to immediately demand to be let go, refuse all searches, demand their ID, and ask what they are suspecting me of specifically. When pressed for a specific crime, they used the classic "Contempt of Cop" charge of "Disturbing the Peace". Ultimately, I was naturally let go, without any search, since I was following the law. Photography is legal, after all.
But, what was maybe most worrisome about this, is how they used this as an excuse to dig into my perceived protest related activity. Here’s what this failed cop wrote about me (which I got from a Freedom of Information and Privacy Request):
#1 IS NOT ON CPIC OR PIMS. LOOKED UP #1 ON GOOGLE. HE IS LISTED AS A
PHOTOGRAPHER ON FLICKR AND BY LOOKING AT HIS PHOTO’S HE ATTENDS MOST
PROTESTS IN CALGARY. THERE ARE SEVERAL PHOTOS OF POLICE AND UNDERLYING
THEME OF DISLIKE TOWARDS POLICE. HE ALSO HAS A BLOG AND A FACEBOOK PAGE
ENTITLED "CALGARY POLICE NEED TO BE POLICED".
Actually, I’ve been missing almost all protests for some time, but so what if I did attend most protests?. Notice, how this is totally unrelated to the supposed "improper photography". This is the new Big Brother. It used to be if you had followed the law, police would find nothing when doing a background check on you. Here, they found nothing of an illegal nature (CPIC has federal criminal records, and PIMS is the Calgary Police Service database of detentions and arrests), but they instantly knew (or think they knew) all there is to know about me. Nowadays, racial profiling is combined with political profiling.
For the record, I don’t hate cops. I hate excessive power and abuse of power by police. Saying "Police need to be policed" should be an entirely non-controversial request. Sadly, my Calgary Police need to be policedFacebook page is largely dead for assorted reasons. You can view other photos in my "Law Enforcement" FlickR set, to see that most police I take photos of are behaving just fine, but not always.
I’ve avoided talking about this incident till now, as I am pursuing a complaint, and there’s always potential for a lawsuit in the future. But, I really can’t help posting the above quote, since I find it so chilling, that merely wanting police to be policed, is cause of concern to police, that they officially track it. Also, I did tell Mr. Ponting that I would be talking about him on the "Photography is not a crime" group, and he was welcome to share his thoughts.
I really don’t know what was "improper" about my photography. As best I can figure, after reviewing everything, is that I took photos of the crowd at the fashion show (on top of the models), and as is common, there are people who think you can’t take photos of anyone without their permission even though they are in public, which is untrue. This is all speculation, as there’s been no specific allegations of anything illegal. Fortunately, under our Charter of Rights, police must give a specific reason for detention. "Improper photographer" is no more a reason than "Improper walking" or "improper talking". Sure, it’s possible to do something illegal while taking photos, just as it’s possible to break the law while walking or talking, but saying "improper" doesn’t tell anybody anything of use.
If anybody is naive enough to think "just show the pictures", consider this: I don’t just have pictures of the event, I have all the other pictures I’ve taken with the phone (public and personal). The phone is connected to the net, and I have seamless access to thousands and thousands of photos I’ve taken (many public many not). Photos can be taken and saved on the phone and/or instantly uploaded. It’s impossible for anybody reviewing to know they’ve viewed "everything", no matter how much time they spend. There’s also all sorts of personal information, about me, and other people, on my phone, or accessible through it. Should I surrender that. What if they Google those people, the way they Googled me, to make a list of everyone who thinks improperly about police. How long would they take my phone? How would untrained beat cops know they’ve seen all the photos, without giving the device to a tech. Sure, I could give it to them and hope they give it back quickly, but what happens if they don’t. Merely asking for it back, might be grounds for suspicion and keeping it for longer. What do I do, while waiting for the phone back. What happens if they "accidentally" break or "lose" it? It is far simpler to say no, endure several minutes of detention, and then walk away.
Ultimately, I was vindicated in refusing them access, since their Googling of me, and review of my pictures on FlickR, shows that they were less interested in looking for legal violations, and more interested in looking for thought violations.
By the way, my reason for posting officer names and pictures, is so other people with experiences of the same officers can connect. I also want the officers to see that I have not been intimidated by them, and I have done nothing whatsoever to feel bad about. When the next officer detains me, and Googles me, they can read this, and see how futile their harassment is.
Photographer: Robert Thivierge
|Date Taken||2012-07-04 18:30:06|
This page was created by Rob’s FlickR Importer on May 20, 2021 @ 12:41 pm EDT.