A worrisome trend is emerging in the relationship between reporters and law enforcement, civil rights advocates say — investigators are detaining journalists or seizing their cameras following incidents involving police.
The issue hit the news again on Sunday, when a camera belonging to a photographer for The Province was confiscated by Vancouver police following an incident in which a man driving a stolen truck was shot and wounded by an officer.
Jason Payne, a veteran photographer for the Vancouver daily, said Monday police kept his camera for more than an hour before returning it.
"The gist of it is they were going to seize my camera as evidence in this situation, and that if I didn't give it up I would be arrested and charged with obstructing justice," Payne told CBC News.
The B.C. Civil Liberties Association said Monday it's aware of four such allegations against the Vancouver Police Department.
Executive director David Eby said his group will file a complaint against the department with the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner on Tuesday.
"In our opinion, there are only three circumstances where police can seize a camera: One is if a person consents to the seizure; one is if they have an order from a judge; and one is if they are taking the camera in a search incidental to an arrest — if they are arresting someone with a camera, and they are taking that camera from a person during the arrest process."
Police said they are also empowered to confiscate items if they believe evidence, such as photographs, might get lost or be destroyed.
At a news conference in Vancouver on Monday, police spokeswoman Const. Jana McGuinness said the department does not make it a practice of taking reporters' cameras because it knows where to find them later.
"Other than to say we are going to follow this up, I can only say we have a good relationship with the media and it isn't our policy to seize equipment," McGuinness said.
Wayne Moriarty, editor in chief of The Province, said the public should be outraged because, under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, police had no legal right to seize news images without cause.
"We are the watchdogs of business, we are the watchdogs of government, we are the watchdogs of the police," Moriarty said. "And the police cannot be pushing us around. We are there to make sure the police behave to the letter of the law."
The paper said it will seek a meeting with Vancouver police Chief Jim Chu to discuss the incident.
Moriarty said he didn't "know what excuse they could possibly give."