Ex-Montreal homicide detective says police never needed to spy on journalists in his day
André Bouchard tells CBC podcast Montreapolis police spying on journalists 'unnecessary'
This is the third in CBC's new podcast series, Montreapolis. You can hear a full feature interview with André Bouchard on the podcast, which brings you conversations with people who make up modern Montreal. Subscribe here.
André Bouchard, a former high-ranking Montreal police officer, says that in his day, officers never would have dreamed of spying on journalists.
"We didn't even have to do that. If we had a real problem back in those days, we'd actually go see the journalist," Bouchard told CBC Montreal's new podcast Montreapolis in a wide-ranging interview, as he reflected on his long career.
"We wouldn't threaten them. We'd sit down with them. We knew them all."
Bouchard's comments come after revelations last fall that Montreal police and Quebec provincial police tracked the cell phones of some of Quebec's best-known journalists for extended periods.
Those revelations prompted the provincial government to launch a public inquiry, which got underway in early April and continues this week.
Martin Prud'homme, chief of the Sûreté du Québec, is expected to speak Monday, while Montreal police Chief Philippe Pichet is scheduled to appear Tuesday.
Never asked, 'Could I talk to this guy?'
Bouchard is a large, physically imposing man who likes to laugh.
Bouchard's face was well known to Quebecers, as he often appeared on TV speaking directly to reporters about investigations, something that rarely happens today.
"I was the last police officer who had permission to talk directly to journalists. I didn't have to call downtown and say, 'Could I talk to this guy? Could I talk to this guy?'" Bouchard said.
Since Bouchard retired, the protocol has changed. Investigating officers are usually off limits to reporters, with journalists putting their questions about investigations to media relations officers.
"Today? There's a homicide, who do you get? A little uniformed guy," Bouchard said.
Affecting a nasally, twerpish voice, he mimicked: "Police were called at 4:47. It's under investigation. We'll know more in the next three or four days. Thank you. Bye."
"That's not what journalists stay up all night waiting behind a line for, in the rain sometimes," he said.
Mutual respect eroded
The way Bouchard remembers it, journalists and police were sometimes at odds, but there was always mutual respect.
"Just pick up the phone and call me if you have a bit of information," Bouchard said he'd tell reporters. "You don't have to tell me where you got it. Just ask me, 'Is it gonna hurt if I put it in tomorrow's newspaper?'"
He said most journalists would co-operate, and he rarely had problems. But he said that mutual respect has been lost.
Bouchard says police chiefs are often too eager to please their political bosses, and he points to Mayor Denis Coderre, who he calls "high strung."
- More from Montreapolis:
Last fall, Coderre admitted he telephoned then-police chief Marc Parent in 2014 to talk about journalist Patrick Lagacé, just before police obtained warrants to look at Lagacé's cell phone logs.
"I never mix police and politics, no matter what people try to interpret," Coderre told reporters at the time.
Bouchard doesn't buy a word of it.
"The police chief is always in the mayor's office," Bouchard said.
"You got a mayor who doesn't like something he saw on TV, and he tells the chief of police, 'I wanna know what the f**k and how come they found out about this before it come out,' and this and that," Bouchard said.
Bouchard said he was often hauled over the carpet by mayors, even by city councillors who tried to tell him how to do his job.
But he said police shouldn't be afraid of media scrutiny.
"I think it's a great thing that the newspaper guys … force the police officers to be good police officers."