Report into spying on reporters calls for laws to protect journalistic sources
The commission that studied how police spied on journalists is calling for laws to set out specifically how journalistic sources should be protected, and how police should be independent from politicians.
The Chamberland Inquiry was launched after La Presse columnist Patrick Lagacé learned last year that Montreal police had been granted warrants to monitor his phone calls.
It was later revealed that Montreal police and the Sureté du Quebec were tracking calls and text messages sent to and from multiple reporters.
During the inquiry multiple people testified that police obtained warrants by making up stories and lying to judges, when in reality police forces were trying to track the actions of police officers.
Radio-Canada journalist Marie-Maude Denis learned the SQ accessed her call phone records over five years, and to obtain the warrant, police told the Crown she was having an affair with an investigator.
“There is not a hint of truth in that allegation,” she said.
As a result, the inquiry is calling for not just strict guidelines, but laws explaining how police must act when investigating journalists.
It also stressed the need for a clear separation between police and elected officials.
In delivering his report, Justice Jacques VChamberland said that to help journalists get to the truth, their sources and their information need better protection and that they should have the right to remain silent to protect those sources, and not just criminal matters.
Catherine Lafrance of the Quebec Federation of Journalists was quite pleased to hear the recommendations.
"We're very happy, very much so, because it goes further than we expected, actually," said Lafrance. “In the end, you don't have a real democracy if you can't protect your sources. You can't come up with important stories,” adding that “it comes with so many recommendations that are so important for journalists, the first one being the fact that it recommends a shield law that protects not only the sources, but also the material."
The inquiry also investigated how then Montreal mayor called on the Montreal police force to explain why reporters were calling him with questions about speeding tickets.
Its report states there is no conclusive proof that politicians are interfering or have interfered with police investigations, but notes that "perception is as important as reality" when it comes to these matters, stressing the need for a legal firewall between police and politicians.
“Let's remember one thing though, it's not based on any evidence of wrongdoing by any elected officials, but I think it's a good idea to preserve the independence in the interests of transparency and the interests of everybody,” said Public Security Minister Martin Coiteux.
The inquiry is also calling for a law that establishes police independence when it comes to investigations that involve politicians.
Christian Leblanc, a lawyer who represents a number of media outlets including CTV, said he hopes police and the province will adopt the recommendations.
"I don't think that the commission blames anybody, that's not their role, but there's certainly an aspect that I believe will make policeman take full cognizance of the importance of taking measures like we saw against journalists," said Leblanc.
The report also makes 27 other recommendations including how investigators and supervisors should be trained, and that police notify journalists if they are the target of a warrant.
News directors in Quebec issued the following joint statement about the Chamberland report
A year ago, we learned that the two largest police forces in Quebec had spied on reporters and their sources. In an unprecedented gesture, the signatories of this letter joined their voices to denounce those abuses of power.
Today, we can only rejoice at the progress that has been made. The report of the Commission of Inquiry on the Protection of Confidentiality of Journalistic Sources (the Chamberland Commission) adequately addresses the concerns we raised. Its recommendations are an important step forward for Quebec journalism and the public’s right to information.
The report first recognizes the fundamental role of journalists in our democratic society and offers increased protection for journalistic sources and material. It also recommends the adoption of an umbrella law “which would bring together in one place all the elements of a system of immunity to ensure” this protection. Finally, the report stresses that the rule is aimed at “not only the confidentiality of sources, but also all the documents and information collected in this quest for information.”
We are pleased to note that the report also suggests reviewing the process of appointing police chiefs, improving the training of investigators, tightening controls over investigations and adopting measures to ensure the independence of elected officials and police forces.
Finally, we are encouraged by the Couillard government’s willingness to legislate to implement the recommendations of this report, as expressed by Ministers Stéphanie Vallée and Martin Coiteux as well as the premier himself. The adoption of a Quebec law, combined with the recent federal law on the protection of journalistic sources, will provide journalists and their sources with greater protection, capable of assuring sources they will be able to entrust journalists with information of public interest without fear of having their identities revealed. In doing so, journalists will be able to continue their essential work of holding various actors in our society and public institutions accountable.
Éric Trottier, vice-president, news, and associate publisher, La Presse
Michel Cormier, executive news directeur, Radio-Canada
Bryan Myles, editor in chief, Le Devoir
Lucinda Chodan, editor in chief, Montreal Gazette
Jed Kahane, news director, Bell Media and CTV
Jennifer McGuire, executive news director and editor in chief, CBC
Helen Evans, managing editor, CBC news and current affairs, Quebec region
Gilles Carignan, editor in chief, Le Soleil
Jean-Philippe Pineault, news director, La Presse Canadienne
Rachelle McDuff, editor in chief, Métro
Patrick White, editor in chief, Huffington Post Québec
Michel Lorrain, executive director, Cogeco Media
Tom Henheffer, news and digital director, Vice Media Canada
Philippe Gohier, editor in chief, Vice Media Québec