Montreal police Chief Philippe Pichet resists calls to step down

Montreal police Chief Philippe Pichet was in the hot seat on Tuesday at City Hall, where he faced questions from councillors during a private meeting.

Projet Montréal calls for Pichet to resign for overseeing spying on La Presse journalist

'We want to shed light on everything,' Montreal Police Chief Philippe Pichet told reporters after a closed-door meeting Tuesday at Montreal City Hall. (Radio-Canada)

Montreal police Chief Philippe Pichet was in the hot seat on Tuesday at City Hall, where he faced questions from councillors during a private meeting.

The city's Public Security Commission, which is a closed-door meeting held every two weeks with the city's agglomeration council, came one day after the revelation that police investigators obtained 24 warrants to track the smartphone of La Presse columnist Patrick Lagacé.

"Unfortunately, I am forbidden by law from saying what questions were asked and what answers were given, but I am not reassured by what I heard," said Projet Montréal councillor Alex Norris.

Project Montreal councillor Alex Norris says Montreal's top cop, Philippe Pichet, should temporarily step down. (Radio-Canada)
The opposition party is calling for Pichet to step down.

"Public confidence has been shaken in the SPVM [Montreal police service] as the result of this espionage. We find it … hard to understand how such espionage could help the SPVM solve allegations that a police officer fabricated evidence – which is the underlying criminal allegation in this case," Norris said.

"We believe that the case is sufficiently troubling that Mr. Pichet should step aside pending the outcome of an inquiry into this affair."

Police chief reviewing case

Pichet spoke to reporters after the closed-door meeting to say he is closely reviewing the entire case.

"I summoned my executive committee," he said. "We will make a tonne of verifications because you raised some good points."

When the news broke Monday, journalists asked Pichet what evidence was presented to a justice of the peace in order to obtain the warrants. They also demanded to know how many other journalists have been spied on in cases where police were investigating their own officers.

"I remind you that there is a trial underway that will always prevent us from answering certain questions, but I want you to know that this dossier remains sensitive for us," Pichet said.

"We want to shed light on everything. It is important that we take the time to validate certain things."

'Why did you do that?'

Anie Samson, vice-chair of Montreal's executive committee, said the council questioned Pichet, but people will have to be patient for answers.

"We asked questions … the same that everybody says: 'Why did you do that?'"

"They explained to us that they have some proof, and it's going to be in the court in a few weeks," Samson said, adding that if police divulge more information, they risk compromising the trial.

The police investigation was into allegations that anti-gang officers were fabricating evidence.

Police told Lagacé last week that they tapped his phone after learning he had been in contact with suspended police officer Faycal Djelidi, one of the targets of their investigation.

"We have to wait, and this is the worst part for them.… They cannot say it publicly because it will [compromise] all the proof that they have."

Samson said that the city's Public Security Commission will hold a special meeting with the police department in the coming weeks for further discussion.

"We want to understand if what they are doing now, in 2016, is the right thing."

Meanwhile, Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard said Tuesday he will assemble a committee of experts to look into the protection of journalistic sources.