Six media outlets in British Columbia will hand over thousands of photos and videos of last June’s Vancouver riots to police under a court order – but not before putting them online for readers to see.

Six media outlets in British Columbia will hand over thousands of photos and videos of last June’s Vancouver riot to police under a court order – but not before some put them online for readers to see.

All 5,481 images taken by staff photographers from Vancouver-based The Province and the Vancouver Sun have been posted online for readers in the wake of a court order that requires the outlets to submit all unpublished photos and video taken the night of the riot to police. The Vancouver Police Department already has access to all published content.    

The decision to publish the photos online was made so that readers can "see whether their images are included in the massive police file assembled for the riot investigation," The Sun wrote.

The court order pertains to six media outlets in B.C. – Global News, CBC, CTV, The Globe and Mail, The Vancouver Sun and The Province. The Sun, The Province and Global have all given statements that emphasize that the images and video are being handed over solely because of the court order.

“It undermines our credibility to be seen in any way, shape or form to be working for the police,” editor-in-chief Wayne Moriarty told his publication, The Province. “We do not gather evidence for them.” 

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Troy Reeb, vice-president of Global News gave statement that echoed the sentiment. "The ability to operate independently is fundamental to the practice of journalism, and Global News will continue to vigorously defend this principle in the future,” he said. “It is important for both the safety of our journalists, and the integrity of their investigative work, that they not be seen as gathering evidence for police."

The Province reports that it had five photographers and four reporters with video cameras covering the aftermath of the Vancouver Canucks’ loss to the Boston Bruins in game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final in June. Global News says it had a dozen photographers covering the riots, and will hand over 30 hours of video. The Vancouver Police Department, in comparison, had only one video camera, The Province says.

The production orders were criticized by Dan Burnett, the media lawyer representing the six outlets, who told CBC that the police’s demands were too broad and unfocused. The Sun and The Province have also been vocal about their concerns that the police will have a large database containing photos of innocent people. As Global News writes:

The media group has called on the VPD to return or destroy any legitimately relevant images after they are used in police investigations. The newspapers and TV networks asked that police respect the civil liberties of thousands of innocent citizens whose images they say should not be maintained forever in police archives.

In vein with the concerns over the outlets’ journalistic independence is the question over the necessity of the order. Harold Munro, the Sun’s deputy managing editor, told Neal Hall of his publication that police should only make demands of this nature of journalists as a last resort. And in the case of the Vancouver riot, the VPD has thousands of photos and videos submitted by the public that are still being reviewed, Munro said.