Thursday, February 17, 2011

camera versus security guards

ow and again I get into trouble with my camera. Since moving to Vancouver, the following has happened because I have a mid-sized, sadly now obsolete but still loved, Panasonic DVX-100b camera:

  • Accused by a protester, dressed in black with only his eyes showing, of unlawfully videotaping him at a public protest in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery against the Vancouver Winter Olympics.
  • Threatened with the untimely smashing of my camera by a drug dealer on Hastings and Carrall street who then proceeded, despite having full knowledge of my presence and where I was shooting and that he wasn't the subject, to carry out more than one crack deal right in front of my lens.
  • Detained by Translink security guards while being told that the presence of my camera was a security risk and possibly offensive to passengers.

In each of these cases, I've gone out of my way not to piss anyone off. Provoking reactions with a camera is not something I try to do.

What I was going to add with the video, but ran into a deadline, was to point out each of the other cameras that are in my shot, There are at least 2 different iPhones video taping and multiple security cameras. The unhelpful security guard told me that he couldn't do anything about all the camera phones, but he could do something about mine. Turns out, no... no he can't really, and his ego was grandeur than his actual authority. I suspected as much, but I wasn't sure.

The most they can really do is ask for my bus pass. Until you are a real security risk, and not just a guy with a camera, they can't touch you at all. Security has no more power of arrest than anybody else other than cops.

I know all this because I checked with the BC Civil Liberties Association. They are very helpful at clarifying the rules.

As for the drug dealer, well, I wasn't going to argue, so I tried to make friends. He apparently doesn't have a problem with the near daily presence of movie cameras in the area, or continuing his trade in front of my camera. Just a friendly threat. I'm not a tattle, and I think the police have left that part of the city up to it's own devices (unless it gets Robocop bad, I assume).

The first guy was just one of those annoying kids who think that smashing windows at the Bay are going to stop the Olympics. He had a tenuous grasp of the legal system and reality. Seems the young are far more certain of their rights than I am.

None of these people have a problem with the big network cameras, or camera phones. Just mid-sized, obviously independent, polite film makers.

I'm sure there must be some reasonable limit to this, but if you are taking photos or video in a public place, you are allowed to. It doesn't matter if you use a pinhole camera, or a leica, or a huge video camera with a CTV logo stuck on the side. This applies even more if it's a news event. Strange as it might seem, random people singing on the train, is a news event.

It was surprising to be busted by Translink Security. Mostly I resent the attempt to talk to me like I was a junior high kid trying to get a free train ride.

Next time I'll just keep recording.

pdate: This 3 minute human interest story was supposed to air on the Shaw program that I volunteer with. Apparently the show where this was to appear has been pulled because of me, mostly. My little video has been censored.

I confess, I'm torn. While I'm sort of proud that I've created something that was too hot for tv, that was never my aim. There isn't any swearing or nudity (which are the two things I would make sure to do if I really wanted to be too hot for tv). This story was always supposed to be about some people singing on public transit. The powers that be at Shaw would like there to be only 10 seconds of copyright protected singing... even though this is a news item and thus not held to the same rules. Not sure how the Beatles and Journey would feel about people singing their songs on the skytrain. I'd be pretty proud if I had written the song.

The other issue was that I should have gotten a release form from the security guard. That is debatable. While this would have been ideal, it would not likely happen. Besides, he made it even more of a news item. I would never have included him had he not decided to stop me, something that is beyond his authority to do. The footage just wasn't that strong. I was supposed to follow these guys for another half hour of fun. I could have made it prettier.


  1. Was it actual Translink police or just a goof in a blue jacket? Only Translink police have any kind of legal standing in terms of dealing with the public. I could never understand what the role of the goofs in blue jackets is. I just thought they were Liberal party supporters who couldn't get a real job.

  2. It wasn't Translink Police at all. They do have the power of arrest and detainment, though they would also be aware that I was breaking no laws, nor was I a security risk. They had been present at the previous Improv Anywhere event which was a no pants ride... in which several people where in their underwear on the skytrain. Valerie tells me that the police made a couple of polite inquiries to make sure no laws were broken and let them carry on.

    Security guards and Translink police don't have a good professional relationship. These two were likely just feeling bored and thought this would be fun. They waited until my lens caught them. They were clearly waiting for it.

    Because it became a news event, I can show photography of them. Had they said nothing and left me alone, perhaps they would be able to argue against being aired. However, it is a semi-public place, and if you can photograph with a phone or a network broadcast camera, why hassle the guy with a mid-range camera?

    Why? Because security work is dull and sometimes making a big deal makes the time fly by.

  3. Did these guys have "Skytrain" on their jackets?

  4. Yes they did. Though the main guy had a completely different style uniform.

    Neither were Translink police, which is apparently completely independent from the security guards. Those guys have guns and can arrest you.

    But only if you are breaking the law, and I wasn't.

  5. The guys with "skytrain" on their jackets are Skytrain Attendants and are NOT Translink Security. Translink Security wear blue shirts and have dark jackets/patches which say "Transit Security" on them. These guys carry handcuffs and can arrest you in certain circumstances. I don't believe Skytrain Attendants can really do much other than verbally ask you to leave, IF you are in contravention of the transit act/regulations. Personal photography, last time I checked, was not against the transit act.

  6. Thanks for the info, Anonymous. They were security, they didn't have handcuffs that were visible and they have no powers of arrest, at least no more than a private citizen does for someone on that citizen's property. For them to have the powers of arrest you have to endanger yourself or others. So for example, if someone was being beaten, then security can act... or if you are smashing property, perhaps. What they can't do is detain you, take away your property or stop you from filming, which you are right, is not against the transit act. Even the card with rules on it did not indicate anything about camera work.

    There are attendants on the Canada Line, where they wear green jackets and have radios.

    I did check all this with the BC Civil Liberties Association. They seem very aware of all the legal acts regarding security on the Vancouver Transit system. A complaint has been filed and the matter should become policy that people can photograph on the transit system.

  7. In the video, the guy in the Blue Jacket and the guy in the black jacket ARE NOT Translink Security, they are Skytrain Attendants. Skytrain Attendants may look similar to security you may see in a mall etc... as they wear a white shirt with patches underneath their jackets. The different colour of jackets they were wearing are just a variation of uniform the STA can choose to wear. Translink Security, also known as "Transit Security" are different than Skytrain Attendants. The Translink website states: SkyTrain Attendants (STAs) are our front-line Customer Service staff on SkyTrain, so you’ll most often find them helping out passengers with information, help, medical aid,
    and so forth. They’re also a first point of contact in dealing with station alarms
    and incidents, calling in additional resources, as needed. STAs may check fares, but do not enforce rules and regulations.

  8. Just an FYI.. in BC, the Trespass Act allows people who own property, or persons who are acting on behalf of the owners, to prohibit certain activities from occurring on that property (including filming). This is found in section 4 of the Trespass Act. So, if a guard ordered you to stop filming and you didn't, then you'd be guilty of trespassing. Unless of course, Translink chose to overrule the guard and say that they would allow filming. That still doesn't allow the guard to arrest you (because, in BC, private citizens can't make arrests for trespassing, only police can - although that is different in other provinces).

  9. Those aren't guards--they're Skytrain Attendants. Their job if you don't know is to provide medical aid, customer service, fix the trains if they break down and provide a security presence and emergency response.

  10. As others have said, those were SKYTRAIN ATTENDANTS in the video, NOT Translink Security.

    1. I'm really curious as to why that matters at all. To the average person, an attendant and a security guard are indistinguishable and clearly play exactly the same role. Neither have the power of arrest or detainment.

      I was told by both themselves and others that they were effectively translink security. If there really is two separate job descriptions I would then suggest Translink is being highly inefficient in their hiring practises... but hey I need a job.

  11. I'm sorry about what happened to your camera, Tom. Your film wasn't unethical because it doesn't affect anyone negatively. You should have overcome your fear, my friend.

    1. Hi Fernando,

      Thanks for the comment.

      I should point out that my camera was not harmed, though I defend any camera I have like a newborn baby. They are precious machines.

      I was not afraid of the security personnel. I know I was within my rights to capture a news item on tape. My concern with this rather stupid transit employee was that it made no sense to stop me while several people went on filming the event with their smart phones. The guy eventually admitted that the bigger issue was people filming up skirts on the sky train with iPhones.

      But it was a good experience in the long run. I wasn't in love with the story from the outset. The broadcaster wouldn't broadcast the story because they are afraid of any litigations and I suppose I was perceived as a trouble maker. I also learned not to ever turn off the camera in the event of a confrontation.

    2. It's good to know that you know your rights, Tom. Learning from our mistakes is what makes us grow as people. :) Anyway, every problem could be solved with a good conversation. May I ask if you have had a word again with the Translink Security about what happened?

  12. Aww, what happened was sad. I guess the security guards were just overreacting about the situation. I think you could’ve gone straight to the office admin of Translink, since I’m pretty sure they’ll allow you to film. Anyway, these security guards just follow what they’re instructed to do, so they’re hardly to blame as well.

  13. I should point out that my camera was not harmed, though I defend any camera I have like a newborn baby. They are precious machines.
    First Security Services security company



Thank you for visiting. I live in Vancouver now, but I've lived in other places too. I take photos and make short films about things and people. Please comment and be argumentative. It amuses me.

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