Montreal·Podcast

Ex-Montreal homicide detective says police never needed to spy on journalists in his day

André Bouchard, a former high-ranking Montreal police detective, tells CBC Montreal's new podcast Montreapolis that spying on journalists is "unnecessary."

André Bouchard tells CBC podcast Montreapolis police spying on journalists 'unnecessary'

Former police officer André Bouchard told CBC Montreal's podcast Montreapolis that police shouldn't be afraid of media scrutiny. (Carrie Haber)

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.

Public Security Minister Martin Coiteux also ordered an administrative inquiry into how Montreal police have handled internal investigations, after determining there were "systemic problems."

Never asked, 'Could I talk to this guy?'

Bouchard is a large, physically imposing man who likes to laugh.  

He started as a police officer in 1971, walking the beat downtown. By the time he retired in 2002, he was head of homicide.
André Bouchard, far right, shown here in 2000 at a news conference with then-police chief Michel Sarrazin, said as head of homicide investigations, he spoke to reporters all the time. (Canadian Press)

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."  

He laughed.

"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?'"  

Bouchard chats with Montreapolis host Steve Rukavina about his decades as a Montreal police officer. (Sara Dubreuil)

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."

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.

However, Coderre insisted he didn't ask Parent to investigate Lagacé.
Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre insisted he didn't ask the current police chief to investigate La Presse journalist Patrick Lagacé, but André Bouchard doesn't buy it. (Radio-Canada)

"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."

(Illustration by Pat Hamou)

You can hear a full feature interview with André Bouchard on CBC's new podcast series, Montreapoliswhich brings you conversations with people who make up modern Montreal. Subscribe here.

About the Author

Steve Rukavina is a journalist with CBC Montreal.