An incident involving a Charlottetown photographer and Quebec City police raises questions about public space rights.
A professional photographer from Prince Edward Island was handcuffed and fined $230 by Quebec City police for allegedly “loitering” while trying to capture images of the iconic Château Frontenac, according to CBC News.
John Morris, a Charlottetown resident, was reportedly waiting for clouds to complete his ideal shot of the hotel when police officers approached him outside the U.S. consulate, opposite the Château Frontenac, on Tuesday noon.
The officers informed Morris that he could not remain in the area for an extended period, citing a 30-minute duration as problematic. Confused, Morris contested, “It’s a public sidewalk. I’m not disturbing anybody. I’m not blocking any views. I’m out of the way.”
Despite his assertion that he was simply performing his professional duties, the situation escalated when he refused to identify himself without being informed of his offence. Morris recounted that the officers only clarified that he was being fined for loitering after placing him in a police cruiser.
The predicament began earlier that day when a guard from the consulate asked Morris to leave the sidewalk, fearing potential security risks. Morris said the guard expressed concerns about the possibility of photographs being taken that could compromise the security of the U.S. consulate building. He defended his right to take photos from a public sidewalk.
Sandra Dion, a spokesperson for the Quebec City police, confirmed the 911 call concerning a “suspicious man” near the consulate and stated that upon arrival, officers determined a municipal bylaw was being violated. However, she did not disclose the exact bylaw or provide further details on the police’s protocol in such situations.
According to the municipal bylaw in Quebec City, loitering, wandering, or sleeping in a street or public space without a reasonable motive is prohibited. The application of this bylaw, however, seems to be discretionary. Dion mentioned that it was not a frequent occurrence to receive 911 calls of a suspicious person near the consulate but noted it had happened five times this year.
CBC News reached out to the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa, which declined to comment on both the incident and its security protocols, emphasizing the importance of safety and security for their personnel and visitors.
The incident has sparked a debate on the clarity of the legal definition of loitering. Florence Boucher Cossette, a criminal defence lawyer with experience in loitering cases, criticized the arbitrary use of the charge by law enforcement. Highlighting previous acquittals in loitering cases where individuals were engaged in benign activities, Boucher Cossette suggested that Morris has a strong case.
Unfortunately for Morris, his dedication to capturing the perfect image was thwarted. “Lo and behold, when the clouds came, I was in the cruiser,” he lamented.
Morris has pleaded not guilty and intends to contest the ticket, leaving the photography and legal communities keenly awaiting the resolution of this case, which might set a precedent for public space usage and photographers’ rights in Canada.