Corp Comm Connects


Shutterbugs, tread lightly in Toronto parks

Policy on city website states photographers need permission to shoot ‘anywhere within a City park.’ Toronto officials say you have a bit more freedom than that, though.
Feb. 9, 2015
By Jacques Gallant

If you’re thinking of snapping some photographs to capture a slice of winter wonderland in Toronto’s parks, be aware that the city has a policy that governs such serious matters.

The policy, posted on the city’s 311 page, reads: “Patrons wishing to use cameras, video cameras or other photographic devices, including camera phones and PDA’s (Personal Digital Assistants), in any program or facility must receive permission from staff before filming.” A note affixed in the red at the bottom that reads: “This includes photography taking place anywhere within a City park or recreational facility.”

Does this mean a mother would have to ask city staff before taking photos of her kids at play?

Could someone actually be prosecuted for violating the policy?

And did you know that a “recreational facility” includes outdoor skating rinks in what would look to most people like an outdoor, public park?

Confused? You’re not the only one.

Resident Bill Andersen was recently trying to take photos of skaters at Greenwood Park when he says he was told by a “young lady in a safety vest” that he needed a permit to carry on.

“I went into the recreation office to see about the permit,” he wrote on his blog. “The R.F.A. (???) on duty said, ‘It’s complicated.’ I would need to have every skater come in and sign. Uh huh.”

Andersen, who declined to comment to the Star, also posted the above-mentioned excerpt from the city’s policy, which has apparently been in force since 2001.

“I’m not quite sure why they would have that policy,” said Harvey Rogers, president of the Greater Toronto Council of Camera Clubs. “I find it a bit of an inconvenience to the photographer, who wants to record their family in a park setting ... I think this must be something that’s kind of archaic and the city hasn’t gotten around to updating it. I’d certainly be interested in their response.”

The response eventually came from Richard Ubbens, the city’s director of parks, who attempted to clarify what he admitted was a foggy bit of sentence structure in the 311 post.

The answer is no, you don’t have to request staff permission if you want to photograph landscapes or people in your own party at a park, although he said you should try to ensure that other people don’t appear in your photographs without their consent. If they complain, staff will attempt to broker a solution, he said.

And of course you can take photos of birds, wildlife and horticulture, said Ubbens, pointing out that the city even recently hosted a contest encouraging people to send in park photos - all taken without city permission.

“I think that the language you’re referring to (in the 311 post) could be clearer,” he said. “It should be referring to city programs and parks and recreation facilities. We can clean that up and make that clearer on that statement ... The intent of it is to respect people’s privacy so that they’re not caught up in the photos of other people.”

Therefore, the answer is yes, you do need permission to take photos of people not in your own party at parks and recreational facilities, including outdoor skating rinks. If a person were to continue flouting the policy, which is not a bylaw and therefore not enforceable, Ubbens said staff would likely call the police.

Now what about taking photos of people who are not in your party and are within a public park, but not in or near a recreational facility? Here it gets a bit fuzzy. Ubbens said he can see why it wouldn’t be so much of an issue if a person was taking photos of people from a faraway distance, such as players on a sports field, but he said he can see how taking photos with their faces visible could be problematic.

He wouldn’t go as far as saying that a person would need to require permission from staff before taking photos in these circumstances, but did say staff would take “appropriate action” if they received complaints.

“The purpose of the policy is to ensure that people can enjoy the parks and programs and facilities that we have,” he said. “That’s the purpose of having policies ... It’s part of common courtesy, part of everyone respecting everybody’s privacy.”