In a report published yesterday, La Presse revealed that Lagacé has been the target of at least 24 surveillance warrants issued since the start of 2016 at the request of the Montreal police department’s internal investigations section, which investigates crime within the force.
Three of the warrants allowed the police to get the numbers of incoming and outgoing calls and texts on Lagacé’s phone. Another warrant allowed the police to activate the phone’s GPS chip and thereby monitor his movements.
The police reportedly told Lagacé that his phone was placed under surveillance in order to establish the origin of leaks from within certain police investigations, and that he was not a suspect himself, just “useful” to this internal investigation.
“This latest violation of media freedom in Canada is extremely disturbing,” said Delphine Halgand, the head of RSF’s US office. “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.”
After discovering that the police had been spying on him, Lagacé said: “I lived in this fiction that this could not happen in this country.” La Presse deputy managing editor Eric Trottier called the operation, “an unequivocal attack against the institution of La Presse and against the entire journalistic profession.”
La Presse’s lawyers filed a court application yesterday with the aim of preventing the circulation of information about Lagacé’s sources. A hearing has been set for November 24.
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.
Canada is ranked 18th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index, ten places lower than its position in the 2015 Index.
IMAGE CREDIT: ROGERIO BARBOSA / AFP