PRESS FREEDOM IS GENERALLY RESPECTED IN CANADA, and CPJ does not routinely monitor press conditions in the country. However, CPJ was greatly alarmed by the September 13 shooting of Michel Auger, a veteran crime reporter with the French-language daily Le Journal de Montréal, and sent a letter to Florent Gagné, general director of the Quebec Provincial Police, urging him to pursue the investigation.
During his long career as a crime reporter, Auger had specialized in covering turf battles among Quebec’s motorcycle gangs. On September 12, he reported that the Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang and the local Mafia were purging themselves of troublesome elements. At year’s end, the investigation into the attempted assassination had unearthed evidence implicating the Hell’s Angels.
Violence against the press is relatively rare in Canada. As in the United States, however, immigrant journalists confront special risks. In 1998, Tara Singh Hayer, publisher of Indo-Canadian Times, Canada’s largest and oldest Punjabi-language weekly, was shot dead in the garage of his home in Vancouver, British Columbia. An outspoken critic of Sikh fundamentalist violence both in Canada and India, Hayer had been partially paralyzed by an earlier assassination attempt.
On October 27, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police arrested two men in connection with the 1985 bombing of Air India Flight 182, in which 329 people died. One of the two, Ajaib Singh Bagri, was also charged with the attempted murder of Hayer.
Canada has a vital press freedom community that includes highly respected organizations such as The Canadian Association of Journalists, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), and the Fédération Professionnelle des Journalistes du Québec (FPJQ). These organizations reported a number of troubling incidents during 2000.
On May 1, according to the FPJQ, three journalists were arrested on charges of “damages,” “illegal assembly,” and “disturbing public order” while covering a demonstration in Montreal. And on June 4, the CJFE reported, police doused photographers with pepper spray during a protest in Windsor, Ontario against the Organization of American States, which was meeting there.
In mid-July, Toronto police seized photographs and videotape shot by fourteen news outlets at a June 15 anti-poverty protest. Police said they needed the photographs and video footage to identify participants in the riots. CJFE labeled the seizure “a disturbingly inappropriate treatment of the media.” Despite the protests, the Toronto Superior Court of Justice upheld the police action on November 1, noting that since the images were seized several weeks after the protest, “there were no negative effects on the ability of the media to fulfill their function as news gatherers and disseminators.”
Michel Auger, Le Journal de Montréal
Auger, a veteran crime reporter with the French-language daily Le Journal de Montréal, was shot one day after the publication of an article he wrote on organized crime in Quebec Province.
The attack occurred at about 11 a.m. in the parking lot of the newspaper, when an unknown assailant fired six times at Auger as he was reaching into the trunk of his car for his portable computer. The journalist was hit five times, but managed to summon an ambulance on his cellular phone. He underwent surgery at Montreal General Hospital the same afternoon.
During his long career as a crime reporter, Auger had specialized in covering turf battles among Quebec’s motorcycle gangs. On September 12, he had published an article, entitled “Chaos Among the Gang Bosses,” which reported that the Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang and the local Mafia were purging themselves of troublesome elements.
CPJ wrote a letter to Florent Gagné, general director of the Quebec Provincial Police, on September 14, urging him to pursue the case.
Auger left the hospital at the end of September. On November 7, police arrested Michel Vezina on suspicion of selling firearms to Hell’s Angels. Vezina has been charged with supplying the pistol used in the Auger attack.
In early December, it was reported that police were investigating an employee of the Automobile Insurance Board of Quebec (SAAQ) for allegedly passing confidential data on Auger to the would-be assassins shortly before the attack.
The woman, whose identity has not been revealed but who was fired from her job, was said to be romantically involved with a member of the Hell’s Angels. News reports and CPJ sources said the woman was expected to be charged with “breach of trust.”