This past month we saw Constable James Forcillo of Toronto convicted of attempted murder. A cell phone video was posted online almost immediately after the incident. In 2007, we saw the video of a Polish visitor to Canada dying while being tasered by the RCMP at the Vancouver airport. In the United States, we have seen case after case in the last few years where Police Officers have been recorded doing many questionable things.
With video-recording cell phones being so common place in today’s society, are we allowed to press the red button and record the police?
Currently there is nothing in Canadian Law preventing you from taking photographs or video in public places, nor is there a law against recording actions that occur on property that you control (ie. your home/your yard). Secondly, there is nothing in Canadian Law preventing you from taking photographs or video of the police engaged in their duties. Therefore, the short answer to the question is, yes we can video-record the police (or security guards or bylaw officers, etc.)
Further, the police have no right to stop you from recording and they definitely do not have the right to seize or take away your phone or delete any of the contents.
You must be cautious however to not obstruct a police officer as they carry out their duties by getting in their way or getting involved in the situation. This can lead to your arrest for obstructing a peace officer. However, simply standing by and taking video is not obstructing the police. The police may attempt to tell you it is, or they may tell you to stop, but you can keep recording, just don’t interfere.
Be aware also that by recording and witnessing events, you may become a witness in a criminal prosecution. You may have to attend to future court proceedings and your phone or device may be required to properly prosecute the case. Usually, as long as an operable copy can be made of the recording, the device itself will not be needed.
Police officers who are properly engaged in their duties have nothing to fear from being recorded. In fact they should be glad, as there will be a true recording of the incident preventing any false complaints about their behaviour.