I’m a medium-distance runner. I can complete a 5K run in half-an-hour which is another way of saying I can jog ten kilometers-an-hour for thirty minutes. But there’s no need for such exertion now; I’ve already made my escape and got away clean. Still, it feels good to run.
I hustle past lines of people outside the Chick’n Deli, and The Bagel Store and I don’t slow-down until I get to Queen Street and the Toronto Dominion bank. I cross at the lights and only when I’m safe on the other side of Spadina do I return my camera to its special compartment in my backpack. I feel like a thief with stolen goods. If it wasn’t for Covid19, I’d jump in a taxi right now. I’d do it anyway if I could, but there aren’t any cabs trolling the streets for fares anymore. Commuters have to call ahead and give their info in advance. What I really need is a bicycle, or a skateboard, or roller-blades. I need to make quicker getaways.
My mind races. I don’t usually return home in the middle of the day, but I want to watch and publish this video. I’d be smart to just take the rest of the day off and promote it on all of my channels. Then let the fun begin. What new opportunities will it unlock? How many new Subscribers will I get? Finally, I have some work that makes me proud. Let’s pray it’s good quality. Let’s hope there was no wind on my mic and all the voices are audible. Let’s hope it’s not jiggly or out-of-focus. Let’s hope the lens isn’t smudged, dusty or the memory card corrupted. If this video is as good as I think, then it could propel my channel forward amazingly; it’ll cement my reputation as a freelancer. I’ve just recorded my first Canadian Charter Rights Audit!
Civil Rights Auditors are video journalists who push boundaries. They take cameras into places that are perceived as off-limits to photography. This includes sensitive spots like post offices, courthouse lobbies and prison parking lots. People don’t realize they’re in public in these places and they believe they can demand privacy. Police are called and more often than not they're also misinformed. They’ll conspire to get videographers to move along, stop recording, or they may even seize and delete footage. But the law is clear; everyone has the right to film anything they can see in public, and the images they create using their cameras are always their property, regardless of what they’ve captured.
I’d considered doing Charter Rights audits before but I've never found a suitably forbidden place to stake-out and record. For years I've been imagining what I’d do if I ever happened upon any real injustice. I hope I’d be like Paul Prichard. He’s the brave soul who filmed Robert Dziekanski’s death after he was tasered by RCMP in 2007. Prichard just happened to be in the Vancouver airport with his camera in his travel bag. He documented the tragedy in real time. He trusted the police when they came and asked for his recording. He complied as courtesy and voluntarily handed over his camera’s SD memory card which also contained pictures from his trip. The police promised to return his property in under forty-eight hours.
But two days passed and there was no correspondence. A week later the RCMP’s public statement conflicted with what others had witnessed. Prichard demanded the cops return his video so he could release it to the public. The police refused to comply. They said releasing the recording would compromise their investigation. So the Vancouver schoolteacher hired a lawyer and held a news conference in which he threatened to use legal action. Newspapers printed the story, and the RCMP’s legal position became untenable. The release of Prichard’s evidence one day later completely contradicted the police version of the incident and led to outrage across Canada. It created diplomatic tensions between our nation and Poland, and Constable Kwesi Millington was sentenced to thirty months in prison for perjury when his testimony differed so greatly from the objective reality presented in Pritchard’s video.
Fast-forward a few more years and ID Refusal media became a big deal on YouTube. A wholly new entertainment genre, the US civil rights audit has two pioneers. The first is Jeffrey Gray in Florida who founded Honor Your Oath and helped legitimate an organization called PINAC - Photography Is Not A Crime. The second is Earl David Worden in Texas who founded News Now Houston which became News Now Community. They both supported Phillip Turner in his landmark U.S. Supreme Court case, Turner vs Driver. He was arrested for recording the police and after a lot of legal wrangling, he was vindicated.
Civil Rights audits have nothing to do with Black Lives Matter or curbing police violence, although Phillip might disagree. Instead, they’re about showing how frequently police overstep their authority and enforce their own emotions and beliefs and not the law.
Jeff Gray and David Worden were the originators, but hundreds of imitators have since followed their examples and I guess that’s what makes it a social movement. I could fill three pages with the names of copycat publishers. High Desert Community Watch is among the most prolific, but he talks too much. He won’t shut up. STFU! I’ve written in the comments after watching his vids and that’s because he always talks over the police officers. Freedom News Now is okay, but he carries an M1 assault-rifle. This is legal in the United States, but I still can’t help siding with the police who’re stopping him. I’d detain that nutcase too! News Now Patrick is probably the most watchable of the second-generation auditors, but he has a penchant for entering police stations and verbally accosting the officers-on-duty. “You work for me,” he’ll say, and nobody wants to hear that.
SilentCitizen has the right idea. He stands outside of post offices and police stations and says absolutely nothing. Some of his videos are classic. His behaviour proves that no-talking is the best approach because then it forces the subject, the nosey law enforcement professional to provide the entire narrative. “Hi... Not Talking?” The police officer will say, “Well... I’m just approaching you today to say we’ve had some reports of suspicious behavior. Can I see your ID?" Then it gets ridiculous. When the auditor makes no move to comply, the police officer must turn around and walk away. He can’t arrest a person for not answering his questions or for simply being suspicious. So, nine times out of ten the police officer just retreats; he does the walk-of-shame.
In Canada, there’s only one auditor and he lives in Alberta. Canadian Rights Media has been active for one year and has forty videos. He’s terrible. Instead of being sweet and stubborn, the Calgarian is straight-up rude to the police officers he encounters and his videos are unwatchable.
This little recording of mine is better than all his work. My piece is actually two videos and when I join them together the result will be about six minutes long. Marketing webinars flood my brain and remind me to watermark the clips and make brand-patches and leave more calls-to-action at the end. I’ll add some links to my other videos too and see if I can’t funnel some of the traffic through my repertoire. Oh please, what repertoire?! I have nothing else this good. But you have to start somewhere.
I turn right on Dundas and hoof it through Chinatown. It seems busy in here despite the Covid-19 lockdown, but everyone is masked-up and all the stores are closed. The eastbound traffic is jammed-up and the cars honk in frustration at something up ahead that nobody can see because of the way Dundas bends around The Grange behind The AGO.
I text Marcy, my friend from high school: ′Hey. Just shot a sweet vid. Wish you were here.′
‘Way to go babe’, she replies a moment later. ′Send me the link?′
‘I will after I upload.’ I continue to walk and type, a special skill that most of my generation has developed. I compose a contextual description of the footage wherein I describe the bike lane blocker, the businessman and the cops. It’s a super long text and I’m about to send it when my phone buzzes in my hand and the ringer-screen hides my message. It’s just Marcy and now I’ll end up telling her everything I just wrote. Arrgh, that’s so annoying.
“Hi, Marse.” I return to my iPhone’s message screen and send my text. I’m not letting my composition go to waste.
"Hey, tell me about your video."
“You on a smoke break?” I can hear her inhale.
"Mmm I quit. Haha." Marcy says and we both laugh. She struggles with a nicotine addiction and quits smoking when life forces her to live with her parents. But it’s torture for her because she works part time as a cashier at her parents’ gas station where they sell cigarettes. “Peter Daglish is back.” She says and there’s an awkward silence.
“Out, you mean.” I don’t even want to think about him, let alone talk about him. “You think I don’t know?”
"Mom saw him in Sobeys.”
"He asked about you."
“Okay. I’m hanging up now. See ya Marse.” I do this to smarten her up and make her realize that Peter Daglish is not a subject for polite conversation. The very idea of him being free and asking about me is toxic to my well-being.
Recidivism is a fundamental concept in criminal justice. It refers to a person’s relapse into criminal behavior after serving a sentence. Certain people and locations and even songs can trigger notions that are conducive to renewed criminal activity. I’m regurgitating this from memory. Other girls my age probably think about other things. Reduced mental health can lead to increased recidivism; bad break-ups, disagreements with family, and arguments with friends and coworkers can all push a latent criminal to reoffend. I have to be careful, so they say...
I spent fourteen months at Gagner Home for Girls in Port Hope finishing my high school degree. It was the best possible outcome from The Incident, which I will not ponder. Gagner helped. The place is a Petri dish for positive outcomes and it’s where I found my passion for TV journalism, lawyer stories and legal videos. It’s where I met Dr. Barbara Drennan and now there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t hear her counseling me, her little chants and truisms still echo in my brain.
Something is brewing up ahead. There’s a mob where Dundas bends to meet University. Hundreds of people hold homemade signs and it looks like an organized protest, but there isn’t a scheduled march today or I’d have known about it. I’ve set alerts on my phone to keep me updated. Is this a flash mob? No. I see their placards now, Frontline Health Matters and Focus on This Emergency. It’s the hospital workers! They’ve come outside on strike and they’re mingling with the indigenous groups and BLM activists who’re perpetually camped in front of 52 Division, the biggest and most important downtown Toronto police station.
Oh Crap. This is important news I can’t ignore. The hospital workers who risk their lives battling coronavirus are on strike. They’re getting some press attention today and I can see four TV stations’ news trucks parked on Simcoe street.
Live-Eye trucks excite me. CBC, Global News and CityTV operate high-tech vehicles with a telescoping satellite-dish masts that are manned by technicians and ringed by security. At the head of the line is CP24 News. Someday I want to work with a news crew and shoot video, live on location. Those satellite trucks are how they send footage back to their stations.
“Toni!” A boy shouts my name.
It’s Paul Arden, also known as Blue, a gangling black teen who’s a couple years younger and close to my heart. He’s an ex-J.D. like me. Juvenile delinquents, is what we were. We shared ditches and picked trash in a hard time that neither of us like to remember. Everyone calls him Blue because he has short curly hair which he bleaches white and dyes light blue. I’m not sure how he does it, but his unique hair style has made him a legend. He’s from Trinidad and he has a warm gravity that attracts people.
Blue is a musician. When I first encountered him on the roadside north of Port Hope in 2018 he composed chain-gang songs which made us all laugh. He brilliantly wove everyone’s name into the lyrics and put our most obvious physical characteristics or personality flaws to rhyme. ′Sound off for Toni Petti, the meanest girl in the reformatory.′ He’s been back home now in Scarborough for six months, and I just moved to the city two months ago. We met again totally randomly at the Black Lives Matter protest on June 24th and it was the first time I’d had a good laugh all year. He's hilarious and today he looks ridiculous riding a Cannondale mountain bike and sweating under a giant square backpack stenciled Uber Eats.
“Mmm, smells like...” I try to identify the restaurant meal he carries by scent alone. “Burger and fries?”
“Nah..” Blue waves to clear the air, “I jus smell like dis now.” He shakes his head in disgust.
“You're not on a food run?”
“No mame. I’m protestin.” Blue fist-pumps the air and laughs because we both know he can only just pretend. He’s a court jester who never takes anything seriously. His flawless dark skin glistens with sweat and he flashes his adorable smile. His front teeth are white chiclets and he has big puffy red lips. Paul Arden is a strange contradiction and not someone to whom I’m attracted, more like intrigued. He’s a hustler who does these little odd jobs and yet I know firsthand he’s a very skilled musician who writes and plays calypso music which he calls Kairo. I’d never heard it until two weeks ago. That’s when Blue played, and I truly experienced it. It was the hottest night of the heatwave, in Kew Gardens, a large park in The Beaches neighbourhood of Toronto. There were really tall trees, and I could see Lake Ontario. It was a bedrock music festival which meant it couldn’t be cancelled, but attendance was diminished due to the pandemic. That made it even better if you ask me. It was outdoors and everyone wore masks and we all sat apart from each other. Blue was there and he played what I thought was a xylophone, but he told me later it was a five-octave marimba. It was a nifty wooden bench which he poked-at with these cute little drumsticks. He did a marimba solo that night and transported us all to the Caribbean. It was magical. He’s a world class talent. But no, I’m not attracted to him.
“Paul,” now I'll put him to work, “do you think these hospital workers will actually march anywhere?” I ask because I’m wondering how much longer I should stick around.
“Seepee twenny fours up dere. Exter and Mark,” Blue says and winks at me.
“You know everyone.” I wonder about his address book. Blue knows I like to watch the CP24 News crew and I was quite surprised when he introduced me to them at the June protests. They're Trini's too I guess and into the same music cause they knew who he was and now they know me. I’ve waved at them and said hello to them at every protest since. One day I hope they’ll take me seriously.
“I get arrown.” Paul chain-locks his bicycle to a lamppost and he’s immediately flanked by two friends, Goat and Drubbin. I hadn’t seen these two characters until now, and I’m not thrilled they’re here. They’re bad influences, and my danger-meter rises. They’re Jamaicans with their hair in corn-rolls and they wear basketball jerseys and have baggy jeans with who-knows-what tucked into their waistbands. Goat is the most tolerable of the two and resembles a young Snoop Dog. He's smart enough to form whole sentences, but they both label females as bitches & hoes. Drubbin is hard to stomach and so I imagine he’s called that because he was beaten-up really badly by somebody once because that’s what it means to catch-a-drubbin.
“Hi Toni,” Goat nods a greeting, “where’s your camera?” The crowd chants around us and he waves his left arm to the beat.
I thumb my backpack over my shoulder.
“I gah mine.” Drubbin pulls out his phone to make a video. “Dance!” He points at Blue who makes a funny face and then wordlessly obeys. He sheds his UberEats backpack and gyrates his hips. Drubbin smiles and pans the phone to me. I don’t engage and the black youth frowns. I've probably ruined the clip’s TikTok potential.
“Hey listen Blue. I’m not sticking around today.” I turn my back on his friends. “I just shot a great vid. I’m going upload.”
“An wha’s dis a vidyo of? Bysickle deliverry bois?”
“No. It’s about bike lanes though. It’s got cops and a snobby businessman. It’s solid.” I take a half step away from him as I can’t wait to watch the video for the first time myself. “I could use your help. Promoting." I tell him and his face lights-up at the idea of being helpful.
“Ohkay rrring me a dingle an tex me da link.” The notion reminds him to use his phone and snap a picture of me, which he does.