I think people make for the most interesting photographs – but it can be hard to find people, strangers, who want to have their photograph taken.

One place I have considered, from time to time, is Parliament Hill, where I would no doubt be able to photograph the protest-du-jour to my heart’s content. It is difficult to imagine people more interested in being photographed.

Well, I had my chance yesterday. It was a nice day, so Baby and I went out for a stroll around the Hill. I have a project I’m working on, a kid-friendly tour of the Hill, and protests were the furthest thing from my mind.

When we arrived, there were two men near the Centennial Flame. One held placards about wasting tax dollars and persecuting immigrants; the other, a sign demanding the closure of Chinese “black prisons”. I didn’t pay too much attention, I just took the flame photos I was there for and moved on.

A little while later, as we were heading for home, I could hear chanting coming up the street:

What do we want? FREEDOM!
And when do we want it? NOW!

My first thought? Well, THAT’s original.

I’m a little ashamed of that now.

The leader continued to shout into his megaphone, egging on his compatriots, his voice hoarse and cracking:

THE GOVERNMENT CAN’T HEAR YOU!

No I thought, a little disdainfully. No, they can’t.

CANADIANS CAN’T HEAR YOU!

No. The disdain now turning into something more like pity. No, they probably can’t either.

It was such a small group, there to demand action against Muammar al-Gaddafi.  They were so dwarfed by their surroundings, a tiny gathering in the middle of the grounds, largely ignored by all but their police escort. Why were they here? How many of them have – had – family or friends in Libya? They hardly looked like a bunch of students looking for an excuse to blow-off class. Current events in Libya really meant something, something real. Something more than just another item on the evening news, just another protest on Parliament Hill.

I wasn’t actually that anxious to take photos of these folks. I was there with a baby and besides, after my initial reaction it just seemed wrong. But then I thought to myself “well, this is what you wanted, isn’t it?”

So I snapped off a couple of shots. It still felt wrong.

Then suddenly there was a man in front of me with a placard, with a bloodied face on it. Beaten? Dead? I was immediately uncomfortable, and looked away.

Well this is what you wanted, isn’t it?

The man with the placard was not being threatening, or even obnoxious.  He was there to protest, I was taking pictures. He was, quite reasonably, putting in front of the camera an image that needed to be seen.

This whole encouter made me rather unhappy. First, I feel like I used these people. I was really taking photographs. As in taking something away and not giving anything back. Taking photos without taking an interest in what they were there to talk about, in hearing their message, in learning about their cause. Taking after having had so little respect as to mock them, even inwardly.

They are people. That’s what makes them interesting.

I have resolved something. I’m not going to chase these opportunities, and I’m not going to wade into anything that doesn’t feel safe, but I will keep taking pictures.  And when I do, I will try to learn something about what brought them to the Hill, and sharing that here. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but it can’t tell the whole story.

And this will be the last time I ever call it the “protest-du-jour”.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Muammar al-Gaddafi has been the leader of Libya since a coup in 1969. In the past century alone, Libya has been part of the Ottoman empire, been colonized by Italy, split between British and French administration, and declared independence as a monarchy. Libya’s first and only king ruled for less than a decade before the coup that saw al-Gaddafi come to power.

That revolution was precipitated by discontent with the wealth that was being accumulated by King Idris, thanks to oil reserves discovered in 1959. Ironically, much of the current discontent revolves around wealth that al-Gaddafi has been said to have ammassed, at the expense of the Libyan people.


Wikipedia describes the Black Jails as “a network of extralegal detention centers established by Chinese security forces across the People’s Republic of China in recent years. They are used mainly to detain, without trial, petitioners (shangfangzhe), who travel to seek redress for grievances unresolved at the local level.” A rather disturbing story, actually, and one that I had never heard.


I’m afraid I don’t know why there was a man protesting the waste of tax dollars & the persecution of immigrants. I think it’s safe to say that I would agree with him on both counts.