November 4, 2016

Canada - RSF appalled to learn of 6 more journalists under Quebec police surveillance

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is appalled to learn that at least 6 journalists were under surveillance by Quebec’s provincial police in 2013. The news comes days after RSF learned that La Presse journalist Patrick Lagacé had his phone calls and texts monitored and his location tracked by Montreal police since the start of 2016.

Three journalists from Radio-Canada, Marie-Maude Denis, Isabelle Richer, and Alain Gravel, along with Journal de Montréal’s crime reporter Eric Thibault, and La Presse’s National Assembly bureau chief Denis Lassard, were all confirmed to have been under Quebec provincial police surveillance in 2013 as part of a police investigation. The name of a 6th journalist to be under surveillance has not yet been released.

The surveillance orders stem from a 2013 anti-corruption investigation into Michel Arsenault, former president of Quebec’s Federation of Labor (FTQ). Arsenault sent a complaint to Quebec’s provincial police (SQ) after reports that he was under investigation for corruption appeared in the news. Quebec police then followed up on Arsenault’s complaint and began monitoring the journalists’ incoming and outgoing calls in order to find the sources of leaks from the police force to the media.

The journalists learned of the surveillance orders against them through unnamed sources. The SQ said that the investigation was closed and sealed in 2014, and that new people and new protocols are in place since then. SQ spokesman Capt. Guy Lapointe told reporters “you have to understand that this occurred with the prior administration of the SQ.…Any investigation that is targeting a reporter…[now] needs to be authorized by the high direction, and any kind of warrant that would be obtained towards this investigation needs to be approved by the director himself."

It is absolutely appalling that within a week there have been two separate revelations of police monitoring journalists’ phones in Quebec, said Delphine Halgand, Director of RSF’s bureau in Washington, DC. If indeed this practice is as widespread as it appears to be, it is indicative of a serious failure to respect press freedom and the independence of journalists in Canada, one of the world’s most prominent democracies.”

"A source told us today that we were the target of this warrant in 2013, and maybe before, said Isabelle Richer. “Maybe we were spied on for a long period of time. We don't know because those warrants are still sealed."

Marie-Maude Denis said she believes “with the facts we have now, it was a widespread practice."

Alain Gravel said it was a “shock. In a democratic society like ours, you never imagine that this thing could happen and be so systematic. It's two events now in the same week. So we're very concerned."

These new revelations are only the latest in a slew of press freedom violations in Canada over several months. On Monday, RSF learned that the Montreal police department has been monitoring the mobile phone of Patrick Lagacé, a columnist with the Montreal daily La Presse, in order to identify his sources. In September, Quebec police seized Journal de Montréal reporter Michael Nguyen’s computer during a search of the newspaper in response to a complaint by Quebec’s judicial council about a story he published in June on a judge’s aggressive behavior. 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 intervening in VICE’s appeal against the order.

Canada is ranked 18th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index, after falling 10 places in 2015.