I've been meaning to write about this for a few days, but other things just get in the way sometimes. That's unfortunate, because this is an important case that deserves attention.
On May 30th, 2011 Ireneusz Janiszewski photographed police arresting a man who was allegedly drunk in public and causing a disturbance.
It is a fact that you are allowed to photograph and/or video our police doing their jobs. They are public servants and while on duty they have no reasonable expectation of privacy while they perform the duties we hired them to do.
Makes sense, and is exactly as it should be.
But the case of Mr. Janiszewski really asks the question about where do we citizens cross the line from photographing police doing their jobs into preventing them from being able to do their jobs?
It's a good question, and one that is not easily answered, not even in a courtroom.
I cannot resist a pot shot at Constable Dave McFadden for his asinine remark made to the London Free Press:
An officer's prime purpose is the safety of his partner and the public, said Const. Dave McFadden, president of the Police Association of Ontario.
The order in which Constable McFadden believes a peace officer should address the situations he or she becomes involved in while doing their duty.
"Officer Safety", that magical catch-phrase bandied about by police PR people at every opportunity, comes ahead of everything else. Their "Prime Purpose" as Constable Mouthpiece... I mean McFadden says.
Anyone reading my articles for any length of time will already know I have a big problem with that notion.
Placing "Officer Safety" ahead of the safety of the public is what caused the Montreal Massacre to be so heinous. Police surrounded the building but refused to go inside and actually deal with the deranged madman killing women inside. That might actually be dangerous! Better to let innocent women be killed than ask police to actually risk their lives to save them.
It's merely the job they are paid to do, after all.
So, my rant about Constable McFadden's asinine attitude off my chest, let's carry on with the actual question at hand:
Where do we draw the line between exercising our Charter Rights and obstructing police from doing their jobs?
The facts of what went on that May evening seem pretty straightforward.
There was a drunk man on the street causing trouble. Police were called to deal with him and that's what they did.
Janiszewski and a couple friends came along and since he had his camera with him, he decided to document the arrest photographically. By his own testimony, Janiszewski was within about 3 metres of the arrest.
Constable Reed Holland ordered him to move back to "a safe distance away where he was no longer a distraction."
That's a reasonable request. Three metres is pretty close, especially if you're already dealing with a drunk person who is being difficult. People within that distance will be a distraction.
Constable Holland said in court that Mr. Janiszewski said, "it was a public sidewalk and he was going to take pictures where he pleased."
Well, yes, it is a public sidewalk, but there is a limit to what you can do on that sidewalk at times like this.
While even Constable Holland freely admitted that Mr. Janiszewski was never actually in the way of the arrest, he was close enough that he caused Constable Holland to split his focus between the ongoing arrest and Janiszewski's actions, then I'm going to side with the cops.
They're dealing with someone they don't know and have no idea how that person will react once police approach to deal with him.
It's reasonable to believe they need some space to handle that situation.
Janiszewski himself admits he was warned twice, but he never felt he was in the way.
Sadly for him, that's not his call to make. It's the cop's.
As strongly as I believe we have the Right to document the actions of our employees doing their jobs, there is a limit to that, if you will, a safe distance from which that should be done. We citizens, as much as we may despise the notion, are not the ones who get to decide that.
This case is not about the right to photograph the police. It's about getting in their way while they're doing their jobs.
Since police are trained to shoot anyone with a knife coming towards them once they reach 7 metres away (just 21 feet), then being only 3 metres away is clearly inside what most cops would consider their "safe zone."
SIDEBAR: It is an accepted fact that an attacker with a knife can close the 21 feet of distance and cut you before you can draw your firearm and shoot. It takes only 2 seconds to close that distance.
Inside that safe zone, especially after being asked twice already, Janiszewski was arrested for obstruction of justice.
Personally, I find it hard to find fault with police arresting him that night. They did not violate his Charter Rights. They did not seize and destroy his camera as some cops in the United State did a while back. While commenters on the London Free Press article seemed to think somehow the London Police Department "got away with one" this time, that's just not the case.
Yeah, that's right... I'm actually coming to the defense of the police. I don't know why you'd be shocked by that. We "good citizens" aren't always in the right, and from what I've been able to dig up about this case, the police did everything they could do, their stupid comments about the "Freeman on the Land" movement aside.
If you've got enough light to shoot photos with, then surely your lens will get you close enough to the action without you getting in the way of cops trying to deal with some drunken yahoo.
Will you get perfect photos? No, of course not, but they will certainly do for the purpose intended: documenting the arrest.
My camera is three years old and lets me take great shots in very low light. This took place at the corner of King and Wellington. Surely there are street lights there, right?
Ireneusz Janiszewski is lucky.
He was offered a conditional discharge before his case went to court. Personally, I think he was foolish not to take it. Assistant Crown Prosecutor Peter Kierluk asked for a one-week jail sentence, feeling that since Janiszewski turned down the offer of a conditional discharge, a stiffer penalty was required.
In the end Superior Court Justice Lynne Leitch disagreed, and sentenced Janiszewski to a year probation with a conditional discharge which means, if he completes his probation without incident he will not have a criminal record.
That's a big deal, since he is currently employed by a defence contractor.
Yes, Ireneusz Janiszewski is definitely one lucky man.