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Montreal police were wrong to spy on a La Presse journalist

OTTAWA, Nov. 1, 2016 — When Montreal police brazenly surveilled La Presse columnist Patrick Lagacé's cell phone, they instantly damaged press freedom in that city and across Canada, said the Canadian Association of Journalists.

La Presse revealed on Oct. 31 that Service de Police de la Ville de Montréal investigators had obtained 24 warrants to track Lagacé's location and delve into his iPhone's metadata in search of his confidential sources. The inexcusable surveillance of a journalist's activities, which police chief Philippe Pichet called an "exceptional situation," was part of a larger internal investigation involving an SPVM officer.

The surveillance of Lagacé's cell phone is the second worrying infringement on press freedom in Montreal in just over a month. In September, the CAJ joined our Quebec colleagues in condemning the Surete de Quebec's seizure of Journal de Montreal reporter Michael Nguyen's computer. "The public interest would be better served if investigators focused on the subject of Nguyen's reporting," we said at the time.

When this most-recent infringement came to light, it was swiftly—and rightly—condemned by the municipal opposition, and Mayor Denis Coderre and Public Security Minister Martin Coiteux later reinforced the importance of press freedom to a functioning democracy.

"Journalists are not a branch of law enforcement. Whistleblowers trust journalists to tell their stories and protect their identities, said CAJ President Nick Taylor-Vaisey. "We report stories in the public interest, and the confidentiality of our sources is often vital in that work. It's inexcusable for a police force to forget that."

The CAJ will always speak out against police forces who seek—and judges who wrongfully grant—warrants that interfere with journalists doing their jobs. The public must know when law enforcement agencies overstep their bounds.

The CAJ is Canada's largest national professional organization for journalists from all media, representing nearly 500 members across the country. The CAJ's primary roles are to provide public-interest advocacy and high-quality professional development for its members.

For further information: Nick Taylor-Vaisey, CAJ president, 647-968-2393, nick@caj.ca

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