Montreal police spying on journalist Patrick Lagacé condemned by Reporters Without Borders

by: Obert Madondo |  | Published Nov 3, 2016, by The Canadian Progressive

Service de Police de la Ville de Montréal (SVPM) is the police force responsible for the City of Montreal and surrounding areas in Quebec, Canada. Photo : 2010 Legal Observers / Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Service de Police de la Ville de Montréal (SVPM) is the police force responsible for the City of Montreal and surrounding areas in Quebec, Canada. Photo: 2010 Legal Observers / Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is appalled by recent revelations that Montreal’s police service (Service de police de la ville de Montréal, or SPVM) secretly monitored the mobile phone of La Presse columist Patrick Lagacé. 

Various media outlets have reported that the police obtained at least 24 surveillance warrants to track Lagacé’s phone and identify his sources.

“This latest violation of media freedom in Canada is extremely disturbing,” said Delphine Halgand, the head of RSF’s US office, in a statement issued ahead of the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, celebrated Tuesday. “Placing media personnel under surveillance in order to identify their sources and follow their movements when they are not charged or being investigated, threatens the independence of journalists and the confidentiality of their sources. It is absolutely unacceptable in a democracy like Canada.”

The warrants allowed the police to use lock onto Lagacé’s phone via GPS, track his movements, and monitor his calls and text messages.

After the revelations, Lagacé told the media: “I was living in the fiction that police officers wouldn’t dare do that, and in the fiction that judges were protecting journalists – and hence the public – against this type of police intrusion.”

According to Reporters Without Borders:

The case is the latest in a string of recent media freedom violations in Canada. The Quebec police seized reporter Michael Nguyen’s computer during a search of the Journal de Montréal newspaper on September 21. The search warrant said the aim was to establish how he got “confidential” documents from the Quebec Judicial Council’s website.

But La Presse reporter Tristan Péloquin revealed last week that the documents were not protected by any security measures and could be downloaded without using a password.

In April, the Ontario superior court ordered a Vice News reporter to hand over to the Royal Canadian Mountain Police all of his communications with an alleged ISIS fighter. RSF and several Canadian media freedom organizations are supporting an appeal by Vice News against the order.

On its website, Reporters Without Borders characterizes former prime minister Stephen Harper’s reign was a “dark age” for journalism. This dark age isn’t exactly afraid of Justin Trudeau, who replaced Harper as prime minister during the 2015 federal election.

Canada is now ranked 18th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index. That’s ten places from 8th position in the 2015 Index.

The recent police actions have had rights campaigners decrying the undereported erosion of press freedom in Canada.

Also condemning Montreal police’s targeted surveillance of Lagacé, earlier this week, a coalition of Canadian organizations said the “expansion of the warrants to include surveillance of journalists is a grim indication of the state of press freedom and whistleblower protections in Canada.”

The group, comprising Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, Canadian Media Guild, Unifor, CWA/SCA Canada, Fédération nationale des communications (FNC-CSN), Canadian Association of Journalists, linked the Lagacé, Michael Nguyen and Vice News cases to Canadian policing agencies’ growing appetite for dictatorship-style powers.

“These cases coincide at a time when police and security services in Canada are petitioning the government for an increase in powers through the new Investigative Capabilities in a Digital World provisions of the ongoing national security consultations framework,” the group said.

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Obert Madondo is an Ottawa-based progressive blogger, and the founder and editor of The Canadian Progressive. Follow him on Twitter: @Obiemad