There are no checks

The revelation Montreal police spied on La Presse reporter Patrick Lagacé was the first in a string of bombshells exposing unchecked police surveillance of Quebec journalists.

In the weeks since, the provincial police, the Sûreté du Québec, admitted it obtained the phone logs of six journalists in 2013 as it investigated the source of leaks revealing police surveillance of a high-profile union boss.

Montreal police acknowledged another reporter’s phone logs were monitored in 2014 during an investigation into a police officer’s conduct, but wouldn’t provide further details.

In Lagacé’s case, judges signed at least 24 warrants in 2016 authorizing police to listen in on his phone calls, monitor his call logs, and track his location using the GPS chip in his phone.

Police said Lagacé had been in contact with an officer suspected of leaking information to the press and fabricating evidence in cases involving street gangs and drugs. 

It later emerged that Montreal mayor Denis Coderre had called up the city’s chief of police after he heard that Lagacé had been inquiring about a possible story related to him, and before surveillance warrants were authorized. Coderre defended that call, saying he was concerned about leaks, and that he did not tell the chief to investigate Lagacé.

Public outrage moved Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard to introduce new rules making it more difficult for police to obtain warrants to surveil journalists. And he ordered a full-blown public inquiry into police conduct and the role political interference may have played in the decision to target journalists.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he found police surveillance of journalists “troubling” and assured Canadians the RCMP and CSIS were not conducting similar operations.

VICE News sat down with the man at the centre of it all to ask how we got here and what does it mean for press freedom in Canada.

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