SQ had 7th journalist under surveillance, chief tells inquiry

Sûreté du Québec Chief Martin Prud'homme revealed the information about Saillant in his testimony Monday at the commission tasked with looking into how journalists came to be put under surveillance.

Martin Prud'homme says SQ had Nicolas Saillant of the Journal de Québec in its sights in 2012

Martin Prud'homme, chief of the Sûreté du Québec, testified Monday before the commission looking into the surveillance of journalists by police. (CBC)

The head of the Quebec provincial police revealed Monday that its officers had a seventh journalist under surveillance — Nicolas Saillant of the Journal de Québec. 

Sûreté du Québec Chief Martin Prud'homme revealed the information about Saillant in his testimony Monday at the commission tasked with looking into police surveillance of journalists.

 The commission is led by Quebec Court of Appeal Justice Jacques Chamberland.

The revelation about Saillant came out of a cross-examination by Christian Leblanc, the lawyer representing a number of news organizations in the province, including CBC / Radio-Canada, before the commission.

Saillant under surveillance in 2012

Prud'homme said the SQ had Saillant under surveillance in 2012, but did not say why, or in what context. 

He said he first learned of it on December 20, 2016, and advised the deputy minister for public security the next day. 

Prud'homme told the commission that no journalist had been the target of surveillance since he took over as SQ chief in 2014.

He said the information about Saillant came out of a review he had ordered that went back 20 years — the time period that saw six other journalists under SQ surveillance.

Those journalists were Alain Gravel, Marie-Maude-Denis and Isabelle Richer of Radio-Canada, Denis Lessard and André Cédilot of La Presse, and ÉricThibault of the Journal de Montréal.

No protocols in place

Top provincial police brass who also testified Monday said there were no rules in place before Public Security Minister Martin Coiteux asked for the procedures to be tightened last fall.

That demand came in the wake of reports that investigators had sought and received call logs from reporters' smartphones in attempts to determine who they were speaking with.

An internal memo from Prud'homme circulated around the force on Nov. 1, three days before tougher rules were established.

André Goulet, a chief inspector and director of criminal investigations at the SQ, testified that tougher rules around the surveillance of journalists only came into force on Nov. 1, 2016.
André Goulet, a chief inspector and director of criminal investigations at the force, testified Monday the note from Prud'homme prohibited "any investigation, surveillance or verification concerning a journalist unless authorized by a member of the brass in advance."

The directives also specifically stated that any request for judicial authorization for a surveillance warrant regarding a member of the press must go through the province's Crown attorney's office to be analyzed before being presented to a justice of the peace.

Those same protocols applied to surveillance requests involving lawyers, judges or politicians.

That provincial police had no procedure in place may seem surprising, given the Supreme Court of Canada had already ruled on the importance of the confidentiality of journalistic sources.

Philippe Pichet expected Tuesday

The commission, which got under way last Monday, was created after it was revealed that several police departments had spied on journalists' phone records in an attempt to identify sources speaking to reporters.

Most of the hearings will be public, but the commission also has the option of holding closed-door sessions.

Montreal police Chief Philippe Pichet is expected to testify Tuesday. Both the SQ and Montreal police have confirmed journalists have been the subject of surveillance.

The commission was announced last November, after La Presse columnist Patrick Lagacé revealed Montreal police had obtained warrants from a Quebec justice of the peace to collect metadata from his cellphone.

The warrants allowed police to track Lagacé's whereabouts using the GPS chip in his iPhone. They also allowed police to obtain the identities of everyone he spoke to or exchanged text messages with.

Montreal police defended their actions by saying they were investigating an officer who was believed to have been sharing information with Lagacé.

Michel Cormier, the head of Radio-Canada, told the commission last week the spying scandal has cast a chill on journalistic sources. 

"We've had sources who are now very ... nervous that their identity will be revealed. Other sources have stopped talking to us," said Cormier.

The commission is due to submit a report in March 2018.

With files from Lia Lévesque / CP, Radio-Canada's François Messier and Salimah Shivji