Montreal

Police sought access to 'oral communications and telecommunications' of two La Presse journalists

Montreal police chief Philippe Pichet Saturday denied that two La Presse journalists were the target of electronic surveillance, a claim that court documents appear to refute.

Quebec government demands 'action' to restore confidence in Montreal police as spying scandal widens

La Presse journalists Patrick Lagacé, left, and Vincent Larouche were the object of a warrant that allowed police to listen to their 'private conversations.' (Jaela Bernstien/CBC)

Montreal police Chief Philippe Pichet is denying that La Presse journalists Patrick Lagacé and Vincent Larouche were the targets of electronic surveillance, despite court records that name the two journalists.

A copy of a warrant request obtained by Radio-Canada shows the Montreal police wanted access to "oral communications and telecommunications" by Lagacé and Larouche.

Earlier Saturday, La Presse revealed that Montreal police sought, and obtained, a warrant that allowed them to listen to their "private conversations."

"The Montreal police asked to obtain permission to intercept conversations, my conversations, Vincent's conversations pertaining to a number of individuals," Lagacé later told CBC Montreal.

Pichet issued a statement Saturday evening that acknowledged two police officers were under electronic surveillance and conversations between the officers and journalists might have been heard as a result. 

He said the journalists themselves were not the target of surveillance operations and claimed the warrant included measures to ensure the tap conformed to Supreme Court of Canada jurisprudence for protecting journalist sources.

The warrant was issued May 27 and was valid for a 60-day period. It listed 15 people, mostly police officers, as well as the two journalists.

The warrant makes reference to an alleged conversation with Fayçal Djelidi, a member of the intelligence division, La Presse reported Saturday. 

Djelidi was among a number of officers charged in the summer for perjury. 

Montreal police Chief Philippe Pichet didn't mention Larouche earlier this week when he acknowledged police were tracking Lagacé's calls. He also denied surveillance of the content of the calls. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

Articles sparked police concerns

Lagacé and Larouche said the warrant was accompanied by an affidavit that revealed police believed sensitive information was leaked to the journalists by other officers.

Montreal police were concerned about a series of articles in early 2016 that detailed complaints within its violent-crime intelligence division.

Larouche's articles cited anonymous sources who alleged the division's commander was interfering with their work for political reasons and was the subject of an internal investigation.  

Larouche said Saturday that the warrant suggests the extent to which Montreal police want to limit the flow of unauthorized information to the media. 

"It shows that they're really concerned about tracking journalists' sources and tracking people who are telling the truth about what's going on inside the department,"  he said. 

Quebec demands action to restore public trust

The Quebec government responded to the new revelations Saturday by demanding the City of Montreal and its police force take steps to restore public trust in the wake of the new revelations of police spying on journalists.

In a statement, Martin Coiteux, the government's public security minister, said he "could not be more concerned" following news that Montreal police sought, and obtained, a warrant that allowed them to listen to conversations between two journalists and two officers who were under investigation.

"The authorities of the Montreal police department and the City of Montreal have to display the utmost transparency in this case and take actions to restore the confidence of Montrealers in their institutions," he said via his Twitter account. 

Lagacé target of 24 warrants

Earlier this week, La Presse revealed that Lagacé had been the target of 24 warrants that allowed Montreal police to track incoming and outgoing calls to his phone.

Those warrants were limited to metadata about the calls, such as phone numbers and GPS locations, but did not cover their content.

Pichet defended those warrants, saying on Monday it was an "exceptional situation." He appeared to rule out that police ever sought access to more than Lagacé's metadata.

"In this case … there was never a question of using electronic surveillance, nor of physical surveillance, of the journalist," Pichet said during a news conference.

Radio-Canada journalists Marie-Maude Denis, Alain Gravel and Isabelle Richer found out Wednesday that the Sûreté du Québec tracked their portable phones in 2013. (Radio-Canada)

Police chief accused of lying about phone taps

The latest revelations prompted both the provincial Opposition, the Parti Québécois, and the Montreal municipal Opposition, Projet Montréal, to reiterate their calls for the Montreal police chief to be suspended.

Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre stood by Pichet in comments to reporters earlier this week. The mayor refused to comment on Saturday.

Lagacé accused Pichet of misleading the public when, earlier this week, he failed to indicate that police wanted to do more than just collect his metadata.

"Its chief is a liar," Lagacé said of the Montreal police force.  

Stephane Giroux, the incoming president of the Quebec Federation of Journalists (FPJQ), expressed similar concerns about Pichet's transparency.

"We're learning that, in the end, Chief Pichet did not tell the truth Monday when he spoke to the media," Giroux said Saturday.

"If that's the case [that there was electronic surveillance], we were lied to and Mr. Pichet will have to be held accountable." 

The Quebec government announced it will hold a commission of inquiry into police surveillance of journalists. The announcement came after Quebec provincial police admitted this week they had spied on six journalists, including three Radio-Canada reporters, in 2013.

Montreal police said Thursday they had placed an additional journalist under surveillance in 2014, but did not release the journalist's identity. 

Larouche, by this count, is the ninth Quebec journalist who may have been under police surveillance.

With files from Jaela Bernstien

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