Your Rights as a Photographer in Toronto

There's certainly no shortage of photobloggers in Toronto. With an ever increasing amount of people picking up a camera for the first time and putting on their 'citizen journalist' hats (whether you like the expression or not), many are facing increased scrutiny and roadblocks from the police and rent-a-cops alike.

Having recently picked up a DSLR myself, I've already had many encounters with security and other officials telling me where I can and for the greater part, cannot take pictures. It got me thinking; What are the laws that bind photographers in the city? Specifically, when is someone actually justified in telling you that you cannot take a photo?

There's not a whole lot of legal resources on what your rights are as a photographer in Toronto (or provincially/federally), so determining these are a matter of interpreting the Criminal Code, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and so forth.

There's a couple examples in recent memory where I've been taking photos that where I've been told not to.

TD Building

The first was at the Toronto Dominion Bank plaza, where, while adjusting the settings on my camera, I pointed my camera skyward and snapped a photo of one of the towers.

As I fiddled with the aperture, I caught glimpse of a security guard walking briskly towards me from across the plaza. I knew immediately what she was about to tell me, "Can you tell me what you're doing?," she asked. When I replied that I was taking a photo of a building, she said, "You can't take pictures of the bank buildings."

Being in a space with benches and plenty of greenery (an illusion of public space, really), I felt affronted and began to protest, but she didn't budge. I left the plaza, a little disgruntled.

In another case, I was inside a performance theatre, and during the intermission of the show, I thought I'd capture some of the architecture of the building. An usher spotted me, walked up the aisle, and asked, "Can you please delete those photos you just took?" Shocked, and worried about getting kicked out entirely, I complied and trashed the photos as the usher observed over my shoulder.

So what should or could I have done in either of these situations? I came across this wonderfully put together piece by Tyler Hutcheon on his personal blog called Photography Laws. Hutcheon notes that while he isn't a lawyer, this is just his interpretation of the laws, but I think it's a pretty concise run-through.

Some important points to take away:

  • You can take photos of anything, but if in taking the photo you break other laws, such as trespassing, then you're in trouble.

  • You can't violate others' privacy by taking photos of them in places where it's reasonable for them to expect privacy (i.e. a bathroom).

  • You can't trespass on someone's property to take a photo if either indicated by a sign, or being told directly by the owner. Disobeying this means a trespassing charge. There are certain exceptions to this in the Trespass to Property Act.

  • You can take photos of any building, provided you're not on private property, or invading someone's privacy (like pointing a telephoto lens in someone's home). Even on TTC property, they have their own set of private rules that prohibits commercial photography, and they could technically tell you to not take pictures there.

  • Nobody can threaten to destroy your camera, photos, or force you delete photos taken as this would be considered assault and/or criminal mischief.

clever do's and don'ts

As for my two past problems mentioned above? I couldn't have done a whole heck of a lot, as it turns out, but I could have done some things differently.


In the case of the TD Plaza, I believe I was on private property, but no signs were posted prohibiting photography, and I had no way of knowing this since I just walked into the plaza from the sidewalk. However, if I had continued taking photos after being told by the guard to stop, she could have called the police and I may have been faced with a trespassing or mischief charge.

In the theatre, however, the usher had no right to force me to delete the photos, but had I not complied, I likely would have been asked to leave the building immediately and again, possibly been charged.

The laws in place leave a lot open to interpretation, but there's something to be said for common sense. When in doubt, play it on the safe side on private property and don't get sassy. I have to stress that all of the above info is just an interpretation of the law, and a judge might look differently on the situation at hand. (Don't blame me if you get locked up!)

Feel free to post about any grey-area photographic encounters with police/security, and how you handled it in the comments.

Photos by blogTO Flickr group contributors Metrix X (top), my own (right top), and spotmaticfanatic (right bottom).

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