Journalists say arrest of Ottawa reporter is abnormal, unacceptable

Journalists are standing behind an Ottawa reporter arrested after a criminal harassment complaint from the subject of a story he had been writing.

Antoine Trépanier was arrested this week after a harassment complaint from an investigation suspect

Radio-Canada reporter Antoine Trépanier is the subject of a criminal harassment complaint from a woman involved in one of his stories. (CBC)

Journalists are standing behind an Ottawa reporter arrested after a criminal harassment complaint from the subject of a story he had been writing.

A Radio-Canada investigation, with a team including reporter Antoine Trépanier, revealed that the executive director of the Big Brothers Big Sisters chapter in Gatineau, Que., falsely portrayed herself as a lawyer and practised law without a licence.

Yvonne Dubé told Radio-Canada she knew nothing about the case and insisted she never represented anyone as a lawyer.

​Trépanier had talked to Dubé over the phone Monday, eventually offering a formal interview request for the story before it was published earlier this week.

After initially accepting the interview, she declined it at the last moment. She instead spoke by phone.

Arrested Tuesday evening

The next day, ​Trépanier sent an email reiterating the offer for an interview.

Subsequently, Dubé contacted Gatineau police and made a complaint of criminal harassment against Trépanier.

Trépanier was arrested Tuesday evening and he signed a promise to appear in court.

The Crown has not yet decided if charges will proceed.

Trépanier, left, waits outside a Gatineau police station after the criminal harassment complaint was levied against him this week. (CBC)

Radio-Canada stands behind the work of its journalist, both ethically and legally.

"Journalists should be free to contact anybody they want. People can say, 'No, I don't want to answer,'" said Yvan Cloutier, director of French services for Radio-Canada Ottawa-Gatineau.

"People have the right not to answer our questions, but to complain to police and for police to put you under arrest because you've asked questions, this is abnormal and we can't accept that."

Cloutier said he doesn't know exactly what Dubé told police, so it's tough to comment on the police decision to arrest the reporter.

He said he had never seen anything like this in his 30 years in journalism.

Advocates for journalists called the arrest troubling. 

"It's extremely concerning that the Radio-Canada reporter was arrested just for doing their job," said Duncan Pike, co-director of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression. "It certainly undermines press freedom and puts a chill on the kind of public interest reporting that Canadians rely on everyday."

He said the case is rare and reporters need to be able to do their job. 

Stéphane Giroux, president of the Fédération professionnelle des journalistes du Québec, said that from what he knows, police acted too soon.

"Gatineau police claim they're doing their job by the book and I'm sure they are, however, police have a lot of discretionary power.… I think police should have taken the time to further investigate," he said.

'We have the obligation to listen'

Gatineau police held a media briefing early Friday afternoon, where the force's director, Mario Harel, said "we have the obligation to listen to the victims ... regardless if [the accused] is a journalist, a politician, a star or an ordinary citizen." 

When asked about what Trépanier did to necessitate an arrest, Harel said he couldn't get into specifics, and could only speak to what happens when someone files a complaint at the police department.

"If there are criminal details in the complaint, the officer has the obligation to protect the public and the victims, and to act accordingly," he said.

Gatineau police explain why they arrested a Radio-Canada reporter who was attempting to interview someone for a story. 0:44

Police had said in a Thursday news release that someone went to the Hull police station saying she was being threatened by a man and feared for her safety, but they wouldn't release further details about what she told them.

The police force said freedom of the press is essential and it does not intend to bully a journalist, but it has to balance that with the rights of victims who want a fair, neutral investigation into their complaints.

Big Brothers Big Sisters in Gatineau said it would not comment Friday. The national organization told Radio-Canada it was not in a position to comment.