Canadian Photography Laws

Photography laws in Canada are a huge grey areas when it comes to the application, admission and implementation on civilians. Most of the laws that will be mentioned in this article do not even directly relate to photography but can be and may be associated to the same in a court of law. While most of the laws do not, in part, mention photography, they give a general concept under which photography can be said to lie, which is why they are included.

It would be important to note that not all photography laws in Canada are consistent. These laws may be specific to a certain province and/or municipality and you should therefore check and confirm whether they apply to you.

All the views and opinions represented here are not for legal purposes but are an recap of my own. You should therefore not use them as legal advice or quote them in legal proceedings. You may however use them freely for research and to give yourself a general concept of what is expected of a photographer and what the photographer should expect while in Canada.

There are many laws that may, in one way or the other, pertain to photography but they cannot all be exhausted in a single article. You should therefore take note of the omissions and go through them.

1. Individual Rights

A photographer, under federal law, is accorded certain rights that protect himself/herself and the photographic property from harm, unlawful confiscation and/or destruction. Under all these rights an individual is therefore morally and legally right to take photographs of people, places and animals in as long as the taking of such photographs does not contradict other laws.

These other laws can be categorized under Civil and Federal laws;

2. Civil Law

Civil law pertains to you and another individual or organization. Civil law is the law under which one’s code of conduct to another individual or organization is examined and tried. In the event that a person is found to be on the wrong side of the law, the government prosecutes the individual. However, the wronged individual or organization can still sue with existent exceptions such as in Ontario.

As pertains to photography, an individual has the right to take photos in as long as he/she does not go against either or all of the following;

a. Slander or libel or the defamation of character

An individual is free to take and publish photographs as long as none of those photographs institute or are intended to be slander, libel or a defaming tool against another person or organization.

b. Invasion of privacy

It is just for a person to take photographs of another person as long as there is consent and there isn’t any invasion of privacy, such as in any case that might be intrusive of a person’s legal, personal, moral and religious rights.

c. Media publications

A media publications may be free to publish or replicate any work as long as it is in context and is not intended to be derogatory to an individual or organization and as long as it does not go against the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

d. Federal Law

There are two very note-worthy laws under Federal Law

e. Charter Of Rights and Freedoms

Under this charter, a person has the right to take photographs and publish them freely without fear or prejudice. The person is protected by the charter against unlawful search or seizure and/or detainment. Similarly, a person who under the Copyrights Act, is the rightful owner of a photograph is guaranteed legal privacy to that photograph.

f. Criminal code

A person is not supposed to take photographs in instances that undermine any statement within the criminal code. For instance, trespassing, criminal voyeurism, breaking and entering, fraud, cruelty to animals among others.

Certain acts are relevant to the above Civil or Federal laws with regards to photography in Canada and include;

I. Copyright Act

Under this act, the copyrights to any photographs that were taken past November 7th 2012, are the photographer’s. However, any photograph that was taken before the stated date, which is when the act was amended, belongs to the owner of the “film or plate” – which can be applied to chip in digital cameras, onto which the original picture was taken. In other words the photograph belonged to the company/person paying the photographer.

II. Youth Criminal Justice Act

Protects young offenders from slander through any publication that directly identifies them.

III. Security Of Information Act

Under this act, no photograph should be used to pass on secrets to foreign countries with wrongful intent, to cause harm or unrest and destabilize the Canadian government and affect its ability to govern or propagate an act of terrorism.

IV. Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA)

Governs the saving and transmission of files by an individual.

None of the laws or acts stated here are completely exhaustive but the guidelines remain the same, even when applied to provincial and municipal laws;

  • It is your right to take photographs, in a public or private area with access, as long as you are not in direct violation of another person’s right.
  • It is your right to take a photograph, within restricted areas, if you are permitted by the owners or a representative
  • It is your right to be free of harassment by security forces for taking a photograph
  • It is your right to publish photographs if in compliance with the copyright act
  • No one can force you to destroy pictures once you have taken them among other guidelines.

Other resources:

Tyler Hutcheon has a really good article on laws that apply to photographers in Canada and especially in Ontario.

The Langley Camera Club has a good article.

The Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic also has some good info.