I’m too angry, everyone says. My mom thinks it's why I get into so much trouble, and Marcy has voiced similar beliefs. But they’re wrong. It’s not a personal grudge that wakes me at the crack of dawn each day. I didn’t pick up a camera in anger. It’s not negative; it’s positive. I’m obsessed with the street and hunting cinema. I'll do whatever it takes to make my YouTube channel succeed. I’ll post any video that will get Toni Petti LIVE noticed and get me a job shooting TV News. Or any job that has me behind a camera. How can someone with anger issues make beautiful videos in bright spots? And why aren’t my beauty shots more popular?
After you publish three dozen clips online you come to understand what your viewers crave, and it’s not feel-good stories about fellow citizens surviving a global pandemic. My subscribers want to be embedded in the Black Lives Matter protests and watch citizens clash with police. They want to see mob violence and first responders struggle through crowds to treat wounded participants. They want to see window breakers, car topplers, looters and graffiti artists. I can sell footage of anyone doing anything illegal. Now I obsess over how best to capture these ugly slices-of-life for that’s the real art of being a freelancer. People ask me if I go looking for trouble, and I always reply yes, Good Trouble.
I hoist my backpack and head for Spadina but freeze in a sudden flash. That same glass door has opened again; the panel catches the sunlight and hurls a hard-ray over the street. Wicked. Do that one more time please. But the door stays open and a well-dressed man appears. The gentleman has a curiously round face with a short brown beard and flat smile. He wears a crisp pink dress shirt with cream coloured pants and brown shoes. He scans the sidewalk until he spots me.
Mr. Pink is not alone. An attractive woman in a summer dress follows with a phone to her ear. I catch her eyes and sense her contempt for me, but it’s quickly concealed. Oh what an unexpected development. This is Round Two. I discretely power-up my camera with my thumb so as not to draw his attention to the device. I know my Panasonic intimately and can easily find the switches and buttons without looking.
“Hi,” the bearded stranger raises his hands like he’s calming a wild animal. “Can we talk?”
“Sure.” I meet his eyes. He’s probably a professional negotiator who’ll try to use his advanced powers of persuasion on me. Let’s see how he does.
“Can you turn it off?” he motions toward my camera, both hands outstretched as if I’m holding a grenade.
“Ahhh, no.” I say apologetically. “For my safety, and yours...”
“Your safety? Awww come on...” The round-faced business executive chuckles disarmingly. He flips his hands over, palms up.
“Can I help you somehow?” I’m not falling for it. His congeniality may dull knives in corporate boardrooms but my blade’s still sharp as hell out here on the street.
“Well. What is your purpose? I know...”
“It’s my business.” I say too quickly and curse myself because he was going to blather something else and I interrupted and now that’s lost forever. Slow down. Breathe.
“Oh, are you...Paparazzi?" He tries a new track.
I wait a moment. Nothing else is coming. “I’m not.”
“Well. That’s too bad. We have a budget for that.” The businessman looks back at his assistant, but she’s still on the phone. He shifts his eyes back to me and the camera. “If you were an independent photographer, then perhaps we could buy your video? The one you just recorded. Of the taxi passenger. I saw the whole thing.”
“How much?” The idea appeals. I’m thirsty for cash, but I ask more to get a sense of his desperation.
“Oh well. It’s a short piece isn’t it? From the taxi to the door.” He outlines the route the mahogany blazered man took to enter his business. “It’s under a minute. So how about... Two hundred dollars?”
“How about five?”
“Pffft. Be reasonable.”
“That’s a bargain. Dewer’s a bike lane blocker.” I’m bluffing of course, because I don’t know the identity of the subject.
“Listen young lady. That’s extortion.” The pie-faced businessman retrieves his own phone and taps the screen, but his assistant interrupts.
“I’ve already called the police,” she informs him and then looks at me, “they’re en route.”
“You hear that? The police are coming...” Mr. Pink Shirt finds the camera setting and raises his phone. Click. He snaps a picture of me. That’s called a cam-back and it’s very common in these types of videos. “Now, we have you recorded.” He holds up my portrait as if it’s damning evidence. “So come on. I’m sure you don’t want to get into any trouble.”
I almost want to laugh he’s so pathetic. He takes a half step towards me and that gives me another idea.
“Oh... Please don’t hurt me.” I act like a young person who cowers from an abusive parent. I lower the camera and tilt-up to make him seem more threatening.
“What? I’m not...” The savvy negotiator knows what I’m doing, and it stops him. He senses for the first time his exposure. He realizes I know my rights, and worse, I’m sculpting the media. I’m making a recording which could hurt his reputation. He might even guess that I’m manipulating him. He gives me a look which tells me he’s getting wiser by the second. Yet he doesn’t give up. “Listen. Young lady,” he recovers, “you’ve got a lot to learn about how the Privacy Laws work in Canada. This isn’t the United Kingdom with its tabloids. We don’t allow Paparazzi.” His logic might convince someone less well-informed, and his confidence might make others question their beliefs. A rookie could hear this and wonder if perhaps they were over-stepping and somehow criminally liable. But I know better. Crushing bastards like him is my obsession.
Knowing the truth and speaking it clearly are two different things. I can’t think of anything funny or insightful to say. So, I bite my tongue. That’s the best practice. The video is evolving into a solid Canadian Charter Rights Audit and I don’t want to ruin it. I’m shaking it’s so good. These two are making fools of themselves in public because they’re so arrogant. They’re the proud upper-class who believe Canada’s laws are made to protect them exclusively, and guard them against inconvenience.
If these people are employed in marketing, or in media relations, they should be familiar with the laws regarding public photography. They should be well-versed on the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms which are born from hard-fought legal challenges. They should know about Toronto Star photographer Alex Consiglio’s 2014 arrest and mistreatment. That case helped spawn printed guidelines regarding the public’s right to record. It happened just down the street at Union Station. Consiglio was told by TTC staff and Toronto Police not to photograph an injured employee. Threatened with criminal trespass he was asked to leave, and he complied. He left the station. But once outside, on the street, he happened to encounter the same distressed worker being moved to a waiting ambulance. He snapped another picture and that’s when he was arrested. It was outrageous, and the media’s backlash against the police and TTC brass reached City Hall and then Queen’s Park. All politicians, municipal, provincial and even some Members of Parliament in Ottawa stated unequivocally the need to protect news-gatherers’ civil liberties. Because I know this story, I’m very confident of my legal position.
“Here they are now,” the slim secretary waves her free hand to signal an approaching police car. A white vehicle with red and blue stripes makes a right turn on King street and rolls to a stop in the bike lane. An oncoming rush of cyclists ring their bells in complaint as they pass. Sometimes everything clicks. Red and blue lights turn-on atop the cruiser, more as afterthought. The emergency lights alert the public as to how these cops will justify their illegal parking. This just keeps getting better and better. There are two officers in the marked vehicle, one male and one female. Normally there’d just be one per car during the day, but this is 2020 and the Summer of Unrest. It’s the age of the Novel Coronavirus-19 and now law enforcement doubles-up on patrols and officers wear dark blue cloth face masks. They exit the car and approach. The female officer closes on me and the male cop heads for the complainants.
“What seems to be the problem here?” the lady policeman questions me. She’s over forty and her uniform doesn’t fit; there are bulges in all the wrong places. She stands eight feet away with her hands on her hips and her mask down around her neck.
“I dunno. Ask them.” I reply.
“I’m asking you.”
“I don’t have a problem.” I center my camera on her and she squirms. She sidesteps to outflank the lens, but I pan and follow because I enjoy how uncomfortable it’s making her.
“You can record me,” she says, because she has to allow it.
“But can you please lower it so we can have a conversation? Like adults,” she asks.
“We’re talking now. It’s fine.” But I do look directly at her and give her my eyes, like an adult.
“What’s your name?” she inquires. I’m tempted to remain silent but decide to use the question to plug my YouTube channel which is the same as my real name and so in that respect, I’m not a private individual. I’ve already decided to build a public persona under my real identity and that’s because it all started from the funny clips I posted on my Facebook page. By speaking the name aloud, I’m ensuring it’ll be present in the voice track. This is another way video-makers take ownership of their media because good clips usually get lifted and mashed-up into compilations and original work can become untraceable after a while.
“You have any I.D. Toni?” The policewoman asks. This reminds me to get her credentials.
“Hmmm... What’s your name? Officer...?” I center my lens on her dark blue flak jacket and a custom embroidered name patch over her right breast. It reads, M. Silvans.
“Constable Silvans.” She replies automatically and then looks up at me, “and you? Do you have I.D. on you Toni?”
“No. Why? I haven’t done anything wrong,” I say and my voice cracks.
“We got a report.”
“I didn’t call you.” More nerves creep into my voice. Calm down.
“It came over that you’re harassing clients in front of this business.” The lady cop points at the glass door which opens again in the sunlight.
“A false report!” I say, a little too hot. Careful. Slow down and breathe. “I hope you’ll investigate that.”
“I am. We are. So what’s your name?”
“Toni... Petti,” I repeat. I speak deliberately slow which makes it appear as if I’m complying, but really I’m just trying to get back to my ideal, emotionless self. Anger is ugly on video.
She retrieves a pen and notebook from her breast pocket. “And what’s your birthday Toni?”
“Umm. I’m not going to supply... I haven’t done anything wrong.”
“Look. I’ve just explained how this is a Police Investigation.” She continues writing in her notebook, seemingly confident that I will eventually comply, but of course I never will. That’s the whole point. This video has now become a Charter Rights Audit and ID Refusal. I know already it could be my best yet, as long as I don’t screw up and talk too much, or get mad, or appear weak. The absolute worst thing I could do would be to produce identification. That would ruin everything.
“Well... ” I begin slowly, “you already have my name.” I focus on remaining calm. “I guess you’ll have to start your investigation by digging up my birth date, somehow.”
“Humph.” Constable Silvans looks up from her book. “We can find out who you are down at the station. Do you want us arrest you and take you to jail?”
“For...?” I ask. “The crime of?”
“Obstruction.” The lady cop states. “You’re obstructing an official police investigation.”
Here it is. This is called the Ultimatum and all good I.D. Refusal videos have this moment. It’s where the auditor risks her freedom, while the police officer risks a reprimand and YouTube infamy. The stakes are high on both sides. The key is not to cave into their demands for identification, but rather to remind them that citizens have the right to remain anonymous absent any probable cause of a crime. Taking pictures in public is never a crime. This is the moment that decides whether an auditor is good or bad and I can barely contain myself. I’ve dreamt about being in scenario like this for two years... I close my eyes to concentrate. My brain hemorrhages forth an abundance of rebuttals, defenses, and variations which I hone to one essential sentence. The most effective course of action is to keep it simple, be polite and yet remain one hundred percent defiant.
“Okay,” I exhale as though defeated. But instead of reaching for my student card, I make no motion whatsoever. Five seconds pass. “I’ll take the obstruction charge.”
“Ugggh...” Constable Silvans shakes her head in frustration. She cannot lay that charge and she knows it. Failure-to-identify is a secondary offense and cannot be the cause of an arrest. “Allan!” She calls to her partner. But her companion is busy speaking to Mr. Pink Shirt and his young secretary, and he seems to be explaining something to them. The business executive looks unhappy and seeing his pie-face frown is tonic for my eyes. I keep the camera on him for thirty seconds before he notices and turns his back. I return the lens to Constable Silvans.
“So... You’re arresting me?”
“Just...” She motions toward the ground. “Do me a favour and take a seat.”
“Mmmm. No thank you.”
“Listen. What’s your malfunction?” Constable Silvans takes a step closer. “Sit down on the sidewalk!”
I watch her face cloud-over with disbelief. She goes red with anger and bars her teeth. Her hands hover over her utility belt as she contemplates her many options. “Why are you making this so difficult?”
“Are you going to throw me down on the cement Constable?”
“You’re going down the wrong road right now...” Silvans says, louder than necessary. “You’re making some real bad decisions here Toni.”
Her male counterpart senses her distress and steps away from the executives.
“I haven’t done anything wrong,” I watch the middle-aged policeman approach. His red nose could signal alcoholism and so I expect him to be irritable. “I just want to go about my business.”
“And what is your business?” Allan asks. His name tag reads A. Jacobson. He’s a tall man with a gaunt face and probably the senior officer.
“It’s... My business.”
“Are you some type of activist?” Jacobson gives Silvans a look. I wait till their eyes return before I say another critical line, another piece of the genre.
“I’m just a citizen recording what I can see in public.”
Allan nods. He’s heard it before and now he’s beginning to sense that I’m woke-to-the-Charter and my camera is a career-killer. The two cops step away to more quietly discuss the situation. Their ninety second conference is just long enough for me to cool down. I watch Officer Jacobson insist on something and Constable Silvan nod in agreement. They make a decision, but rather than go easy, Allan comes on hard.
“Okay, this is your last chance,” Jacobson squares-up on me. “The business owner is pressing charges. We have to do paperwork. Please produce identification. Right now.”
I make no movement and remain silent. What will they do?They’ll get written-up if they touch me, and I think they know that. I hope they know that. I say nothing. I just stare at them. Your move.
“Can you just tell us your birthday Toni?” Constable Silvan asks, playing the good cop.
“She has I.D. on her,” Allan says and then reiterates, “we need it for our report.” He waits. I make no effort to comply. He loads-on another threat, “you’ll give your details here or down at the station.”
Here’s the ultimatum again. I try to stretch it out and make it last long as possible. This is YouTube Gold. I have to breathe calm and concentrate to stop a smile from wrecking my serious-face. This is so perfect.
“Hmmm.. Okay...” I pause, drawing it out. I sound nervous, like I’m about to collapse, and their faces brighten. “Should I call my civil rights attorney now? Or use your phone at the station?”
“Uggh,” Constable Silvans’ hands clench into fists. She shudders and can barely contain her frustration. “Why won’t you just I.D. yourself?”
“Because I don’t have to.”
“But why not? Why wouldn’t you?” Constable Silvans asks, “it doesn’t cost you anything.”
I wait. I hope she’ll ask, ′what are you trying to hide?′ That’s pretty much all that is missing from this video. But she doesn’t, and so I level with her.
“Because I don’t want to live in a city where the police can just roll-up and demand I.D. from people with cameras.”
That shuts her up. She looks over at her male counterpart who nods and grins at me. It’s a sincerely appreciative smile; he knows I’m right. They both know it. But the business snobs are another story. During my exchange they’ve crept closer and now other pedestrians have also stopped to watch. Pink-shirt pushes for my arrest.
“She’s causing a disturbance. I know there’s a law against that.”
“No,” the male police officer shakes his head no with some finality, “she’s not.” His mind is made up about me now and he smirks. “Listen. Just don’t loiter all right. Don’t harass them.” The male police officer says and the female police shrugs helplessly at the business people.
“I won’t harass them” I reply, sugar sweet. “I promise.”
“You’re leaving right?” Constable Silvans hopes for this tiny victory. “You’re moving along?”
“Sure. Yes.” I speak softly. “I won’t wait around here a moment longer... Than I have to.”
“Why don’t you go now?” Silvans points west down King street.
“Mmmm.. No thank you.” I reply, as polite as schoolgirl declining pastries after church. This enrages her all over again.
Constable Silvans and Lt. Allan Jacobson both turn and walk away. They do the walk-of-shame which is the final component of a decent ID Refusal video. That’s what it’s called when the police finally give-up after all their threats, bluffs and made-up-powers crumble in the face of determined resistance. They end up issuing some worthless free advice as they slink away with their tails between their legs. The best practice is for the auditor to remain quiet and let the subject’s dishonour speak for itself. It’s on full display here. Allan hangs his head and mopes away and he’s joined by Constable Silvans who doesn’t look back at me or the camera. They’ve left me holding the field and I keep rolling on their squad car. Silvans sits in the passenger seat and stares straight ahead as they leave their illegal parking spot. I pan back just in time to catch the business people retreat through the glass door. I hold the shot on the entrance as it empties and then notice a lobby sign I hadn’t seen before. I zoom-in on the green and red logo just to read it. It says, Tractor PR. I hold for thirty seconds before I cut.
11/10 Good video! I almost want to scream it’s so perfect. I laugh aloud and wonder if the agency boobs can hear me. I hope so, but I don’t want to push my good luck. I shuffle away as quick as I can without actually running. I hold my camera in my hand as I scamper north up Spadina like a dog with a bone. Thank the Lord above! Thank Theia the Goddess of Light. Am I being followed? There’s nobody behind me, but... I do wonder if I’ll pay another price.