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BCCLA protests cops' camera seizures

The BC Civil Liberties Association has protested the seizure of still and video cameras by members of the Vancouver Police Department.

In a letter addressed to Mayor Gregor Robertson as Chair of the Vancouver Police Board, BCCLA President Robert D. Holmes wrote:

The BCCLA has now received a number of formal and informal complaints about the practice of VPD members in this regard, and formally ask the Police Board to clarify police policy on this critical issue.

Section 2.9.6 (i)(15) of the Vancouver Police Department Policy and Regulations Manual states the following about the media filming in a public place:

15. The news media can be restricted from entering a crime scene, as with any other citizen; however, members must be aware that news media have the right to film or photograph anyone or any event in a public place, including police officers and their actions.

Holmes's letter lists several incidents, including the April 5 seizure of Province reporter Jason Payne's camera after an alleged car thief was shot, and the claim by a private citizen that police had erased his video of a police shooting on March 20.

Holmes also cited a VPD spokesperson's April 6 statement that the VPD has "the legal right to seize cameras and videotape from the public at their discretion without a warrant."

On being contacted by the BCCLA to ask for the legal authority for these statements, which the BCCLA believe to be wrong at law, the VPD was unable or unwilling to provide the case or statute the VPD relies on for this apparent policy. Superintendent Warren Lemcke advised the BCCLA via e-mail on the afternoon of April 6 that "We support the comments of our media person and are confident we have the authority in law."

Holmes then asked that private citizens be assured of the same guarantees assured in policy to the media:

The BCCLA asks that the Vancouver Police Board clarify policy in the Regulations and Procedures Manual to document the right of private citizens, not just the news media, to photograph or film police activity without fear of detention, the seizure of camera equipment, and the seizure or deletion of photographs or video.

Crawford Kilian is a contributing editor of The Tyee.

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