Your rights as a Canadian photographer

Bullies within private security and police forces are increasingly keen to harass people taking photographs in public places. As such, being aware of the laws relating to photography in your jurisdiction is quite worthwhile. The standard ‘I am not a lawyer / this does not constitute legal advice’ warning applies.

Things you cannot do:

  • Misrepresent someone in a slanderous way through photography or captions accompanying photographs.
  • Photograph people in their homes, or in spaces where they have a ‘reasonable expectation of privacy,’ such as public bathrooms.
  • Trespass, especially at night.
  • Take photos “that could be considered national secrets, interfere with a large number of Canadian’s lives, impair or threaten the Canadian Forces, national security or intelligence.”

Things you can do:

  • Take photos for non-commercial use in nearly any public space.
  • Photograph and publish photos of anyone, aside from young offenders, who are “newsworthy, doing newsworthy things, or are public figures or celebrities.”
  • “It is not against copyright law to take a photo of any architectural work, for example, a building, or a permanent piece of public art.”

The document linked above has a lot more detail, including statutes specific to provinces. It also has some good tips on what to do if you are confronted about taking photographs. As always, remaining calm and polite – but clear and firm about what it is within your rights to do – is the best approach. Deleting your photos in response to a confrontation is probably not a great idea because (a) it reinforces the idea that those confronting you have the right to make you do this (b) when they almost certainly do not (the exemption is the national security case) and (c) you will be destroying evidence that the photos you were taking were legal.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

20 thoughts on “Your rights as a Canadian photographer”

  1. The War on Photography

    What is it with photographers these days? Are they really all terrorists, or does everyone just think they are?

    Since 9/11, there has been an increasing war on photography. Photographers have been harrassed, questioned, detained, arrested or worse, and declared to be unwelcome. We’ve been repeatedly told to watch out for photographers, especially suspicious ones. Clearly any terrorist is going to first photograph his target, so vigilance is required.

    Except that it’s nonsense. The 9/11 terrorists didn’t photograph anything. Nor did the London transport bombers, the Madrid subway bombers, or the liquid bombers arrested in 2006. Timothy McVeigh didn’t photograph the Oklahoma City Federal Building. The Unabomber didn’t photograph anything; neither did shoe-bomber Richard Reid. Photographs aren’t being found amongst the papers of Palestinian suicide bombers. The IRA wasn’t known for its photography. Even those manufactured terrorist plots that the US government likes to talk about — the Ft. Dix terrorists, the JFK airport bombers, the Miami 7, the Lackawanna 6 — no photography.

  2. Photographers Face Ejection Over Lenses

    “Zooomr CEO Thomas Hawk was ejected from a San Francisco art museum because the security guard apparently thought his expensive camera could be used to spy on female employees. Another photographer notes that ‘many people consider a professional-looking camera a threat,’ and the state of California has even passed a law against telephoto lenses being used to intrude on celebrities’ private lives. Hawk is routinely confronting security guards who argue that photographing their buildings represents a ‘security threat.’ Ironically, four weeks ago while attending Microsoft’s Pro Photo Summit, he was told he couldn’t even photograph the lobby of a Hyatt Hotel.”

  3. 13 Tips for Great Photography in a Developing Country

    by Brendan on June 11, 2009

    After living a few times in Africa, and thousands of shots, I’ve figured out some ways to capture some of what makes places like Senegal and Ethiopia spellbinding. Here are some of those techniques. If you’re a Senegalese or Ethiopian, lucky you! You know already then that it’s much easier to do this than it is for us visitors. These tips are for us Toubabs and Fenenjis.

  4. Vancouver cops affirm your right to take pictures

    By Cory Doctorow on Photo

    Vancouver, site of an upcoming Olympic games, has just announced a policy prohibiting cops from taking away your camera or making you erase your photos.

    It’s always been policy but now it will be enforced. Vancouver police are not allowed to seize cameras or cell phones from anyone, unless they have consent, a warrant, or the person has been lawfully arrested.

    Constable Lindsay Houghton tells the Province newspaper the policy has always been there, but it’s now in writing and updated in their official regulations manual.

    Vancouver police update camera/cell phone seizure policy

  5. One thing worth knowing: according to the instructor of the photojournalism course I am taking, a model release provides no legal protection if you use a photo in a way that is damaging to the subject. To be safe, you are always best off using photos in ways the subjects would approve of.

  6. “you are always best off using photos in ways the subjects would approve of.”

    So, if I photograph a politicien at a Klan meeting – I can be sued for libel by publishing it?

  7. I think there are special protections for newsworthy images. The instructor didn’t discuss the matter in detail – just mentioned in passing that model releases don’t mean much in Canada and that Canadian Geographic doesn’t use them.

  8. I am fairly new to photgraphy and have been out taking photos of what I find interesting. I have 3 separate photos. One of a young girl curled up in the roots of a large tree that is quite lovely, she is very recognizable and I believe I would need a release for this photo to sell but can I put it on flicker? Another is at an antique auto show held in our town on the street. I took a photo of a neat little car and a woman with a perfectly matching dress happened by. She offered to move for me but I asked her if I could take the shot because I loved her dress. She happily gave me a perfect pose. Can this go on flickr without worries? The other is of a brightly dressed girl heading to an empty beach with sand pail in hand. I am delighted with this shot. You can not see her face and I would like to know if I need a release to publish or sell this.


  9. The situation in Canada has reached the point where it needs to be said loudly and clearly: there is no law against public photography in Canada; no one here can ever be arrested for the simple act of making a picture or film, unless other laws are being broken in the process; and police officers who are in uniform and executing their duties in public have no reasonable expectation of privacy.!/opinion/freedom-to-photograph-under-threat/b5110ddb46a8e7127cf52f347ea2ad6c

  10. Photographing and filming police officers in Canada

    The Ottawa Citizen has a very good editorial on the practice of police intimidation of citizens who use their cellphone cameras and other devices to record the police.

    Here’s a summary of what Canadians should know about this:

    * There is no law in Canada that prevents a member of the public from taking photographs or video in a public place (other than some limitations related to sensitive defense installations);
    * There is no law in Canada that prevents a member of the public from taking photographs or video of a police officer executing his or her duties in public or in a location lawfully controlled by the photographer (in fact, police officers have no privacy rights in public when executing their duties);
    * Preventing a person from taking photos or video is a prima facie infringement of a person’s Charter rights;
    * You cannot interfere with a police officer’s lawful execution of his or her duties, but taking photos or videos does not, in and of itself, constitute interference;
    * A police officer cannot take your phone or camera simply for recording him or her, as long as you were not obstructing;
    * These privileges are not reserved to media — everyone has these rights;
    * A police officer cannot make you unlock your phone to show him or her your images; and
    * A police officer cannot make you delete any photos.

    Yes, you can photograph or video police in public in Canada

    Watching the watchmen

    The fact is, police have no sweeping authority under Canadian law to order people to stop taking pictures or videos of them in public or confiscate their devices without a court order. Certainly, police can arrest anyone who wilfully obstructs them while taking pictures, but even then they have no automatic right to seize the device, much less delete its contents.

    Unfortunately, say observers, too many police think otherwise. And even if they know better, they too often use the excuse of obstruction and the threat of arrest to cover their illegal demands.

    “Increasingly, people are being arrested, charged or even assaulted by police officers, merely for attempting to take photos or videos of officers at work,” says lawyer Karen Selick, who wrote on the topic last week in the National Post. “Often, police simply command people to stop photographing. Scared into thinking they must be breaking some law, citizens comply.”

    “Police are being caught on camera and they don’t like it,” says Carleton University criminologist Darryl Davies. “But contrary to what the police may feel about the use of this technology to record their activities, there is no restriction on people taking pictures.”

    “There is nothing in the Criminal Code that would directly prohibit someone taking pictures of officers in the performance of their duties in public,” says Abby Deshman, Director of the Public Safety Program at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. “They can tell you to move away but they don’t have the right to stop you taking pictures.”

  11. Hello, I am hiring a photographer to stop women in the street and ask to photograph them and what they are wearing- street style photos.
    They are to be used as inspiration on my fashion blog. I will have posts that show these photos.
    I am not using the photos to sell a product but I do have google ads on my blog which bring me money and they will appear on the sidebar and sometimes within the post itself.
    Do they need to sign a model release or is their verbal permission to pose for the photo enough? Thank You, Deborah

  12. When confronted, threatened with detention or the confiscation of equipment, ask the following questions: * What is your name? * What is the name of your employer? * May I leave? If not, what is the legal basis of my detention? * If equipment is being demanded, what is the legal basis for the confiscation?

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