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Vancouver police demand media hand over riot images

Newsrooms argue that agreeing could endanger journalists -- who might then be seen as acting on behalf of the police.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

When police come knocking in search of staff photographs and video footatge, it's a rare request, and one that newsrooms have generally refused to honour in the past.

As officers began appearing at Vancouver media outlets Wednesday, demanding footage shot during the Stanley Cup riots, it was unclear how they would respond this time.

The Canadian Press has the story:

VANCOUVER -- Vancouver police began showing up at local newsrooms Wednesday demanding video shot during the Stanley Cup riot, saying footage captured by journalists will be invaluable to prosecute suspects.

The force also revealed how many people they expect to include in the first wave of charges late next month. Police expect to forward evidence to Crown counsel involving 40 people, although they insist hundreds will eventually be charged.

Insp. Les Yeo said officers were visiting news outlets to deliver warrants, also known as production orders, requesting raw footage taken during the June 15 riot, which followed the Vancouver Canucks' loss to the Boston Bruins.

Yeo said it will be added to the hundreds of hours of video already in the possession of police, either shot by officers or bystanders.

"Anything that can give us the best evidence against these individuals is essential to us, and some of the best video footage we have is in the possession of the media,'' Yeo told reporters.

"The (investigators) are asking for raw footage, which includes stuff that was not broadcast.''

A police news release singled out the Vancouver Sun, The Province, the Globe and Mail, Global TV, CTV and CBC.

Such warrant orders are often controversial.

"Everyone wants criminals brought to justice, but the law does not permit an overly broad fishing expedition with search warrants or similar court orders,'' said Dan Burnett, the lawyer representing several media organizations in the matter, including The Canadian Press.

"There is a large body of law about when those orders are justified, including a court decision that threw out overly broad search warrants after the last Stanley Cup Riot in Vancouver.

"That may very well be one of the issus with this order the VPD announced today. ''

The last time Vancouver had a sports riot, following the Canucks' loss during the 1994 Stanley Cup series, police voluntarily asked newsrooms to turn over their photographs and video, but media outlets refused.

That prompted the police to issue warrants to two local newspapers and CBC-TV, but a judge ruled the first set of warrants was too vague and threw them out. Days later, police returned with a revised set of warrants and seized the material, which was then used in criminal prosecutions and in a high-profile civil case.

Media outlets argue requiring them to turn over such material could endanger journalists if they are seen as acting on behalf of the police.

Peter Klein, director of the University of British Columbia's journalism program, said reporters shouldn't be expected to open up their newsrooms to law enforcement.

"To ask journalists to cross the line and be acting as agents of the police, I think it's harmful to the role we're supposed to be playing in society,'' said Klein.

"If this is acceptable, the next time a journalist wants to go out and take photographs, why wouldn't the public say, 'Well, what's going to happen to these photographs? Are you going to share these with the police?'''

Yeo disagreed with that characterization, and said he was optimistic news outlets would comply.

"I don't believe the media are there working for the police, they are there doing their job, but it's essential that we hold the people accountable that rioted that night and it's important for me as team commander to get all the evidence that was obtained that night,'' said Yeo.

"We have worked with everybody in the community. The media is not the only people we have video from.''

Meanwhile, Yeo said police continue to analyse video footage at a forensic lab at the University of Indianapolis. The first round of charges are expected to be forwarded to Crown for approval by the end of next month, said Yeo, although those 40 cases won't depend on video currently being processed in the United States.

Dozens of people have turned themselves in, and Yeo said they are among those expected to be charged next month.

The force has come under criticism for the slow pace of the investigation. It's been more than three months, and so far no rioting charges have been laid.

Yeo repeated the force's plea for patience.

"As I said before, we're looking at charging up to 500 or 700 people,'' said Yeo.

"This is probably one of the largest investigations of its kind in Canadian history and it does take a long time. This is not CSI where it takes an hour to have everything wrapped up.''

The riot spanned several hours on the night of June 15, as jersey-clad hockey fans set fire to cars, smashed windows and looted stores, causing millions of dollars in damage.

Independent reports into the riot have said police were overwhelmed as massive alcohol-fuelled crowds gathered downtown for the game, including tens of thousands of people who were crammed in front of large screens at an open-area viewing party, where the violence first began.

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