Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre has admitted he telephoned then-police chief Marc Parent in 2014 to talk about journalist Patrick Lagacé, just before police obtained search warrants to look at Lagacé's cell phone logs.
But Coderre insists he did not ask Parent to investigate the La Presse columnist at the centre of the unfolding police surveillance scandal.
"I never mix police and politics, no matter what people try to interpret," Coderre told reporters on Monday.
Montreal police have confirmed investigators spied on Lagacé a second time, in 2014, during an investigation completely unrelated to the one revealed last week.
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Lagacé told CBC News that in December 2014 he was trying to verify a rumour about Coderre.
There had been whisperings among police that Coderre may not have paid a ticket he got for an expired licence plate in 2012, before he was mayor.
Lagacé said he talked to several police sources and determined the rumour was untrue. Because Coderre had paid his ticket, Lagacé never wrote about it.
Coderre worried about string of leaks
At one point in the course of his digging, Lagacé emailed the mayor's press attaché to ask if Coderre had ever paid the ticket.
Lagacé later learned that shortly after his email was sent, Montreal police opened a criminal investigation to determine which officers had spoken to him about Coderre's ticket.
A spokesperson for the mayor confirmed to Radio-Canada that Coderre did contact Parent.
In an interview with Radio-Canada's Alain Gravel, Parent wouldn't confirm if he spoke to Coderre and reiterated that he never authorized any surveillance of Lagacé.
Asking questions vs. political interference
Speaking with reporters Monday afternoon, Coderre admitted that he called Parent after his office received Lagacé's email.
Coderre said he was worried that he might be under surveillance at the time, particularly in light of an ongoing dispute between him and the Montreal Police Brotherhood over pension reform.
He said the incident with Lagacé was the latest in what appeared to be a series of leaks from police sources about him.
There was also a story in the Journal de Montréal suggesting that Coderre had asked for a police escort to attend a Corey Hart concert, which Coderre denied.
Then, Coderre says the police union leaked a copy of a speeding ticket he was issued by Laval police to the media.
Coderre said the email from Lagacé made him concerned that in the context of the labour dispute, some officers may have leaked information about him, so he called Parent to get more information.
But he said he never ordered police to investigate.
Lagacé, however, argued it's clear there was influence from Coderre's office on the police.
"Political pressure made its way down the hierarchy, and people did dumb things, which [includes] spying on journalists."
'Lack of judgment,' Opposition says
Projet Montréal Leader Luc Ferrandez said Monday Coderre should apologize and acknowledge he made a poor decision.
"To say he's simply acting as a citizen is worse than naiveté, worse than ignorance. It's a failure, it's a serious lack of judgment," he said.
Mtl Opposition says Coderre's claim he went to police chief only as a citizen unacceptable, given his power over him pic.twitter.com/lYPmJRyYUg— @EmilyBrass
Ferrandez pointed out that as mayor, Coderre is involved in setting the police budget and has a strong say in who becomes chief.
As a result, the mayor's requests don't carry the same weight as that of an average citizen, he said.
The Opposition also wants the upcoming public inquiry into the issue to look at political meddling as part of its mandate.
Releasing the evidence
Late in the day Monday, Catherine Maurice, Coderre's director of communications, released a copy of the proof of payment of Coderre's infractions to the media.
The itemized receipt, sent to Coderre's personal email, shows three statements of offence plus administrative fees totalling $610.50. It was paid in July 2012.
Maurice said according to the explanations the mayor's office received, 400 days after a ticket is paid, information relative to that file is deleted, which explains why the ticket appears as non-existent in the computer system.
It was the fact that the ticket appears as non-existent in the system that prompted Lagacé to look into it.