British Columbia

Residential school mourner 'confused and hurt' that her image is being sold online

Loretta John didn't know she had been photographed at a residential school memorial at the Vancouver Art Gallery until she saw the image for sale online.

Loretta John didn't know her picture was being taken during moment of prayer for victims

A photograph of Loretta John mourning residential school victims at a memorial in Vancouver is being licensed by Getty Images for up to $575. John, who gave CBC permission to use the image, says she wants any profits to be given to residential school survivors and support groups. (Mert Alper Dervis/Getty Images)

WARNING: This story contains distressing details.

A Vancouver woman was shocked to discover that a photograph showing her in a private moment of mourning for Indigenous children who died at a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C., is being licensed to news outlets without her consent.

Loretta John, who is a member of the Lheidli T'enneh First Nation near Prince George, B.C., and a housing worker in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, attended a public memorial outside the Vancouver Art Gallery on May 29.

Several pictures of her were taken by a photographer for the Anadolu Agency and are now being licensed by Getty Images for up to $575.

John, who gave CBC permission to use the image in context, said she didn't even know her picture had been taken until a co-worker told her she'd seen the photo online.

John says she is "confused and hurt" by the situation and feels like her private moment of prayer is being exploited for profit without consent. Her parents and grandparents were forced to attend residential school, and she herself was taken from her family as part of the Sixties Scoop.

"It's really heartbreaking for people to take advantage of this," John said.

She said that while she understands news outlets have the legal right to photograph public events, she believes she should have been consulted and that any profits being made off of her image should be going toward supporting residential school survivors.

In a statement, Getty Images says they "endeavour to maintain the balance of an individual's right to privacy with our obligation to cover the story in the public interest of exposing difficult issues." They note the image is available for editorial use only, meaning it can only be used by news outlets covering stories that are of general public interest. 

The Anadolu Agency, a state-run Turkish news outlet, did not respond to requests for comment.

Ethical conversations

It is common practice for news outlets, including CBC, to license images for use from photo agencies, including Getty. However, people with experience covering sensitive events say photographers must include ethical considerations as well as legal ones.

Photos of memorials to Indigenous children who were forced to attend residential schools sprang up across Canada after ground-penetrating radar revealed hundreds of unmarked graves near schools in B.C. and Saskatchewan. Those photos have circulated around the world. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Odette Auger, a freelance journalist who is Sagamok Anishnawbek on her mother's side, said she ensures she gets approval from the people she photographs, particularly when they are at a memorial or culturally sensitive event.

"Just making extra room and taking extra care is my approach," Auger said. "It just seems wrong to profit off that in any way or even just presume that because it's public that you can enter into that moment."

Photojournalist Amber Bracken, who was recognized by the Canadian Association of Journalists for her coverage of events in Wet'suwet'en territory in 2020, said she tries to consider who holds power when deciding how to approach her subjects.

"For example, sometimes we need the right to be able to observe what politicians do in public because they hold power over the rest of us, but it's not always the same for private citizens," Bracken said. 

"We have rights, but it isn't in the interest of the profession if we use our rights like bullies and without consideration for the people it's impacting."

Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools and those who are triggered by the latest reports.

A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for former students and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419.