Politics

Tom Mulcair calls for public inquiry after revelation RCMP spied on journalists

As the leader of the NDP called on the government to launch a public inquiry into the RCMP's surveillance of journalists, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau repeated assurances that it won't happen again.

Trudeau says RCMP surveillance of journalists 'will not happen again'

Bob Paulson, the commissioner of the RCMP, partially authorized a request to spy on reporters after they obtained a secret CSIS document that detailed an alleged, failed terrorist plot.

The federal NDP leader is calling on the government to investigate revelations that RCMP officers conducted unauthorized surveillance of two journalists in 2007.

"There has to be, rapidly, a public inquiry into how this happened and if higher ups approved it. I've rarely, in my life, seen officers acting on their own in something like this. This is an attempt to stifle the abilities of journalists to do their crucial work in our democracy," Tom Mulcair said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau agreed that the RCMP was out of line to spy on journalists and he repeated assurances Wednesday that it won't happen again.

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair spoke to reporters after his caucus meeting Wednesday 0:40

"It was unacceptable and we've already apologized directly to those journalists," the prime minister said briefly in French on his way into the Liberal caucus meeting Wednesday. "We will ensure that it will not happen again."

Canada's public safety minister also condemned the spying, adding the government is committed to protecting the freedom of the press.

"This matter has been handled at the highest levels. The responsible officers have been reprimanded and RCMP leadership has reaffirmed the existing policy, which should have been followed," Goodale said in a statement, referring to RCMP rules that demand "special care" when dealing with sensitive sectors such as media, academia, religion and unions.

CBC News first reported Wednesday that a group of RCMP investigators placed two Ottawa-based reporters under physical surveillance for nine days in August, 2007 in the hope it might lead them to identify the source of a leaked CSIS document.

The journalists, Gilles Toupin and Joel-Denis Bellavance, both with La Presse, obtained a secret CSIS document in 2007 about alleged discussions of a terrorist attack on an airliner. Adil Charkaoui, one of the men named in the document, has denied the allegations in court actions against the government and La Presse.

The officers spying on the reporters did not obtain the necessary permission from their bosses before launching their surveillance efforts. When they eventually sought approval, they were immediately denied authorization and told to cease the surveillance. They appealed three times before receiving a partial green light from Bob Paulson, then an acting assistant commissioner, months later. That approval was not acted upon.

Paulson has since become the commissioner of the RCMP. When reached by CBC News, Paulson confirmed the surveillance activity. He said he could not confirm this was the only case of the Mounties spying on reporters, though he said he was unaware of other cases.

"It was only partially approved under limited conditions having regard for the fully exhausted alternative avenues and the relatively mild level of intrusiveness. A very last resort if you will. The relatively more intrusive search and seizure technique ... was not approved," he said in a note to CBC News.

Opposition Leader Rona Ambrose was asked about the case by the CBC`s Chris Rands before Question Period today 0:32

Mulcair said the move — to track journalists in an effort to subvert their reporting and arrest their source — is affront to the work of reporters.

"Your ability to do your jobs here, in Parliament, is a way of buttressing all of the democratic life in our country. The work of journalists in our political life is essential to guarantee our democracy for all Canadians," he told reporters in the foyer of the House of Commons.