MONTREAL – A Montreal journalist whose iPhone was monitored by police for months said Monday he was outraged to discover he'd been "spied on" as part of what he calls an effort to identify his sources.
The French-language newspaper said it learned at least 24 surveillance warrants were issued for columnist Patrick Lagace's phone this year at the request of Montreal's police's special investigations unit. That section is responsible for looking into crime within the police force.
Three of those warrants reportedly authorized police to get the phone numbers for all Lagace's incoming and outgoing texts and calls, while another allowed them to track the phone's location via its GPS chip.
Lagace said police told him they obtained the court-authorized warrants because they believed someone they were investigating was feeding him information.
"I was living in the fiction that police officers wouldn't dare do that, and in the fiction that judges were protecting journalists — and hence the public — against this type of police intrusion," Lagace said. "Clearly, I was naive."
Montreal police Chief Philippe Pichet said the surveillance was in response to an "exceptional situation" and he pointed out the operation targeted the force's own officers and not Lagace.
The surveillance was ordered as part of an internal investigation into allegations police anti-gang investigators fabricated evidence. Five police officers were arrested this summer and two were charged as a result.
"We are very aware of the importance of freedom of the press," he told a news conference. "On the other hand, the (Montreal police) also has the responsibility to investigate all types of crimes involving police officers."
He said to his knowledge no other journalists had been placed under surveillance recently, but added he could not guarantee it.
Reaction to La Presse's story was swift, with many unions and media organizations denouncing the police operation, and some calling for Pichet to step aside while the matter is investigated.
La Presse's vice-president of information, Eric Trottier, called the surveillance "an unequivocal attack on the institution that is La Presse and against the entire journalistic profession."
Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre said he was concerned by the report.