Inquiry into journalists’ sources to hear from Quebec police chiefs

Quebec inquiry hearing from police chiefs

MONTREAL — Quebec provincial police had no protocols in place with regard to investigations involving reporters before the controversial practice of spying on them became publicized, a high-ranking officer told an inquiry Monday.

Senior provincial police officers were up first as the inquiry studying protection for journalists’ sources began its second week of hearings.

Provincial police director Martin Prud’homme testified that police exercise great care when they have to share information with the Public Security Department.

But top provincial police brass 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.

Andre 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.

The inquiry, known as the Chamberland Commission, 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.

Prud’homme also told the inquiry about a previously unpublicized incident in 2012 when another journalist had been subjected to surveillance.

He told the inquiry he only found out before Christmas about the Journal de Quebec reporter, but didn’t specify why surveillance had been ordered.

Prud’homme will give way to Montreal police Chief Philippe Pichet and senior city police officials on Tuesday.

The inquiry, presided by Quebec Court of Appeal Justice Jacques Chamberland, will hear testimony from actors on all sides including law enforcement, media and the courts before reporting back to the government with recommendations by March 1, 2018. 

It has already heard that word of warrants to collect data from the smartphones of several prominent journalists created a chilling effect on newsrooms and sent sources into a panic.

Also during its first week of hearings, the commission heard two senior sitting judges defend the work done by justices of the peace who sign off on warrants.

The inquiry has heard that police frequently solicit telecommunications companies for certain data of its mobile users, with the requests sometimes being quite extensive.

Representatives from phone companies testified the type of information typically given is the source of incoming and outgoing calls, the times of such calls and the duration.

Lia Levesque, The Canadian Press

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