P.E.I. Photographer Fined for Alleged Loitering Near Quebec City Landmark

John Morris, a professional photographer from P.E.I., said he was trying to get the perfect shot of the iconic hotel when police approached him. (Émilie Warren/CBC)

A Charlottetown photographer was handcuffed and fined by Quebec City police while taking photos of the Château Frontenac, sparking questions about public space regulations.

A professional photographer from Charlottetown, P.E.I., faced an unexpected ordeal when he was fined $230 for alleged loitering as he was photographing the historic Château Frontenac in Quebec City. John Morris, who is a creator of books, calendars, and puzzles featuring his photography, was detained by police while he was simply awaiting the right lighting for his shot, according to CBC News.

The incident occurred near the U.S. consulate, directly opposite the Château Frontenac around noon on Tuesday. Morris recounted standing on the sidewalk when police approached him, instructing him to vacate the premises. “They said, ‘You can’t be standing outside for 30 minutes,'” Morris shared, expressing his bewilderment over the situation given that he was on public property and was neither causing disturbance nor blocking any paths.

Morris’s interaction with the authorities escalated when he questioned the offense he was committing and refused to provide identification until it was clarified. Upon attempting to record the encounter with his phone, he was handcuffed. The officers’ justification for his fine became clear only after he found himself in the back of a police cruiser — for loitering.

“It’s absolutely crazy that you would be given a fine for waiting for clouds on a public sidewalk,” said Morris, who pleaded not guilty and intends to challenge the ticket in court.

The dispute began earlier in the day when a guard from the consulate approached Morris, requesting that he stop his photography. Morris maintained his stance, asserting his right to photograph from the public sidewalk. Tensions mounted leading to a 911 call about “a suspicious man” near the consulate, with police response following shortly thereafter.

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Surete du Quebec emblem is seen on an officer’s uniform in Montreal, Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christinne Muschi

Quebec City police spokesperson Sandra Dion confirmed the call and the subsequent arrest, citing a municipal bylaw. Dion did not disclose specifics about the bylaw or under what conditions such arrests would be made, highlighting that cases are addressed individually and are subject to police discretion.

When CBC News reached out to the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa for comments, they declined to speak on whether their personnel made the 911 call and remained reserved about their security protocols.

The definition of loitering, as per Quebec City’s bylaws, is vague, stating it is prohibited for someone to loiter “without a reasonable motive” in any street or public space. Criminal defence lawyer Florence Boucher Cossette, familiar with loitering cases, indicated that the law’s application is arbitrary. Highlighting the ubiquity of loitering, she pointed out the potential strength in Morris’s defence, given his active engagement in photography at the time.

Morris, unfortunately, missed his chance to capture the desired photograph due to the incident. Reflecting on the irony, he lamented, “Lo and behold, when the clouds came, I was in the cruiser.”

The case has sparked a debate over the use of public spaces and the discretionary power of law enforcement in Quebec City, prompting residents and visitors alike to ponder the clarity of the rules governing public sidewalks in Canada.

This incident has not only interfered with an artist’s work but also raised significant questions about the balance between security measures and individual freedoms in public spaces.