Reporters not surprised by police scrutiny
Published Tuesday, November 1, 2016 6:41PM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, November 2, 2016 8:50AM EDT
Investigative reporters who were tracked by Montreal police are not surprised that they came under unwarranted scrutiny.
This week Quebec learned that Montreal police had dozens of warrants to tap the phone of CJAD contributor and La Presse columnist Patrick Lagacé.
Those are extraordinary measures that are only supposed to be taken to investigate a crime, and it appears that Montreal police were investigating Lagacé as part of an internal probe into allegations that police anti-gang investigators had fabricated evidence.
As part of that investigation police also kept very close tabs on three other journalists: TVA's Felix Seguin, Cogeco radio justice reporter Monic Neron and freelance investigative journalist Fabrice de Pierrebourg.
Police did not have warrants for those reporters, but did track every call they made to police officers -- or that police officers made to them.
That's a sign that police were not investigating any crime, and were instead trying to find out which officers were talking to the press.
Seguin -- who was under police surveillance -- reported Tuesday that TVA had obtained an audio recording of the second in command of the Montreal police force, Mario Guerin, warning high-ranking officers that they had to track down and silence internal leaks.
That recording was apparently made on April 26, setting off an unprecedented witch hunt for police talking to reporters.
Seguin has had close contact with police supporters for years, and so was not surprised to learn his conversations were being monitored.
"I have some concerns about the way they I would say in a very soft way spy on us. That's a concern I've had for many years," said Seguin.
He is not alone. Neron, a reporter for 98.5 FM also found out police had verified which police officers had called her.
"Police officers now want to know why the force is spending so much time investigating their own, rather than focusing their energy on fighting crime," said Neron.
The outrage over the Lagacé warrants has now moved from newsrooms to courtrooms where lawyers, along with Francois Legault, head of the CAQ, are demanding an inquiry into the behaviour of the SPVM.
Julien Pelletier of Juripop, the legal aid centre, said by tracking reporters police are attacking society.
"Maybe that would be an interesting exercise for our society to reflect on the challenges we face. Democracy is a fragile way of state," said Pelletier.
Media lawyer Mark Bantey said he would be very surprised if the Lagacé warrants turned out to be worthwhile.
"I don't think that this search warrant will yield any evidence of the commission of a crime. I think the purpose of the search warrant is to obtain the identity of sources, and that's not a legitimate purpose," said Bantey.
Meanwhile the police union is calling on Montreal police chief Philippe Pichet to step down.
"There was a lack of trust to him and his direction and right now I think he went too far," said Yves Francoeur.
On Tuesday, Pichet said that he was not about to step down, and said that police were respecting the law in getting warrants for Lagacé's