Police officers obviously perform an honorable role in our society, ensuring peace and order for Canada’s citizens.
Today, we are all too aware that nothing is perfect, and police are no exception. There is an inherent power imbalance in any interaction with a police officer, so it is vital that citizens know their rights to ensure they are being treated properly. Now that most people have a smart phone in their pocket at all times, video recordings of interactions with the police are being used more frequently as a tool to ensure that police officers are not breaking the law themselves.
To quote one of my favorite movies: “Who watches the Watchmen?” This quote has great philosophical and societal depth to the question of whether we are able to truly hold the decision-makers in our society accountable.
Are regular citizens, then, allowed to record police officers while they are on duty?
The legal test to determine this can be found in R v. Zarafonitis, 2013 ONCJ 570. This is a case from Ontario but because it is interpreting a federal statute, it is the applicable law across Canada. As the law stands today, it is legal to record police officers while they are on duty so long as you are not obstructing them from doing their jobs.
This principal of law is derived from Section 2(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which states that everyone has the fundamental “freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication.” The Supreme Court of Canada has interpreted this provision to mean that the right to disseminate information includes the right to gather news and other information without undue governmental interference.
There are always exceptions to the general rule, so the above is not to be considered legal advice that you can invariably record police officers during the course of their employment. However, if you are not obstructing the police officer from doing their job, you have a strong legal basis for being able to record interactions which involve them.