Police call for end to 'rooftopping' photography in Toronto
'Eventually somebody is going to make a mistake, and it will be a critical one," police officer says
Toronto Police Const. David Hopkinson has arrested his fair share of rooftoppers, a nickname for the daredevil photographers who climb atop skyscrapers to snap vertigo-inducing pictures of the world below.
He expects it's just a matter of time before one of them in Canada dies.
"We can't bat 1,000 on this," he says. "I believe that eventually somebody is going to make a mistake, and it will be a critical one."
Last year, at least two deaths were linked to rooftopping.
A 17-year-old man fell off a building in Russia and a 24-year-old New Yorker slipped off the roof of the Four Seasons Hotel in Manhattan. In 2012, a photographer died after he fell into a Chicago building's smokestack.
But despite the obvious dangers, there's no shortage of photographers willing to take a big risk for a great photo from the top of a bank building, condo tower or the edge of a construction crane.
It was just a few years ago that rooftopping lingered on the fringes of the mainstream in North America, appealing to urban explorers who were already venturing into abandoned buildings, city sewers and subway systems.
When padlocks started appearing on fences and entryways to rooftops, that's when one Montreal-based photographer — who asked for his name to be withheld for legal reasons — knew rooftopping had reached new competitive heights.
Sometimes the locks are placed by rooftoppers themselves, a strategic manoeuvre by some looking to claim their own picturesque turf.
"The rooftopping scene (in Toronto) is really well oiled. It's groups of two, three or four people, and they battle for the rooftops," the photographer says.
In Canada, rooftoppers have squarely focused on the biggest cities, with Toronto being the hottest spot. Smaller groups are also snapping and posting pictures of their latest conquests in Montreal, Calgary, Quebec and Vancouver.
One typical trademark shot includes the photographer's dangling feet over the edge of the building. Other daredevil selfies feature people standing on — or even hanging off — the edges of a building.
The challenge of finding the perfect cityscape intensified with the growing popularity of Instagram, where rooftoppers are often enthusiastically rewarded with thousands of Likes, driving a sense of celebrity and rivalry.
The social media attraction is what grabbed Edward, a rooftopper in New York. He remembers the first time he saw rooftopping photos about year ago.
Within months he had amassed his own collection of Instagram shots that were generating widespread praise and thousands of Likes. He now has nearly 33,000 followers.
Edward hopes his rooftop shots will generate extra money on the side. He recently sold a print for US$1,500.
He insists he's not concerned about the physical dangers of his edgy photos.
"I know my limits ... I'm 30 years old so I'm not going to take the same kind of risks," he says.
"I think I have a little more experience than your average 17-year-old high school kid who is thinking about this for the first time."
But like most rooftoppers, he shuns any notion that he should use safety equipment.
"Not only is it a hindrance but it's heavy to carry along with all the camera gear," he says.
"You're trying to come into this location as discretely as possible looking like you belong there. If you come in there with a heavy backpack or a lot of gear, people are going to stop you."
While police are well aware that rooftoppers are constantly out on the prowl looking for their next death-defying shot, arrests aren't always a deterrent.
Hopkinson says rooftoppers can be charged with trespassing, as well as both mischief or break-and-enter under the Criminal Code, but if the court finds rooftoppers aren't trying to steal property the charges can sometimes be dropped.
Property damage charges can be laid if locks are broken or fences bent, for example, but many rooftoppers say they intentionally avoid making a mess.
Hopkinson says placing locks on fences or doors could lead to charges for interference of lawful enjoyment of property.
"Some people have been charged with trespassing and we don't release instances of that because it's not a criminal charge," Hopkinson says.
"I've arrested five guys myself getting into one of the buildings in the downtown core. The courts decide ultimately what happens in regards to charges. We put people in front of the courts where we have a belief that somebody has committed an offence."
Edward continues to churn out one eye-popping rooftopping shot after another and swears he doesn't put himself at risk.
"Sitting on top of a tall building is no different than sitting on a bench — you're not going to fall off a bench unless you're throwing yourself off."