Quebec police say they monitored journalist's phone records

April 28, 2017 1:12 PM ET

The chief of police for the central Canadian province of Quebec on April 10, 2017, acknowledged that provincial police had in 2012 monitored the phone records of Nicolas Saillant, a journalist with the newspaper Le Journal de Québec.

Chief Martin Prud'homme testified to a commission investigating police surveillance of journalists led by Quebec Court of Appeals Justice Jacques Chamberland that the Sûreté du Québec, Quebec's provincial police, had monitored Saillant's phone register, but did not elaborate, according to media reports and Saillant.

Saillant told the Committee to Protect Journalists that he did not know that he was under police surveillance, and that he found out through social media.

"Nobody told me before. I saw my Twitter jump suddenly, with my name everywhere, and then a few minutes later [national broadcaster] CTV was talking about this case," he said.

During the April 10 cross-examination, Prud'homme acknowledged that police had Saillant under surveillance in 2012, but did not explain the rationale or the context, according to CBC News. He said he initially learned of the surveillance on December 20, 2016, through an internal review of records dating back to 1996, and informed the deputy minister for public security the following day.

Saillant told his newspaper that records of his incoming and outgoing calls were monitored for about two months, but that he still did not know why he was the target of this surveillance. In an April 11 Facebook post, he wrote that the newspaper's lawyers would work to get access to the documents.

Saillant told CPJ he had an idea about which article might have drawn the police's attention, but was waiting for official documents for confirmation. He said he believed that police were hoping to use his phone records to identify a source for one of his articles, whom he suspected police believed to be a fellow officer.

"It's so clear in my case that they wanted to have the name of my source, and that's why it's so frustrating," he said. "Here, we have freedom of the press, and I think what they've done is a violation of that. I'm very careful to protect my sources, and we know that our sources take a risk when they talk to us, but if an organization like the Sûreté are using tricks like this, it's an unfair battle."

Sûreté du Québec spokeswoman Christine Coulombe told CPJ that police could not comment on a continuing investigation.

The Chamberland Commission was created in November 2016 after Patrick Lagacé, a columnist for the Montreal daily newspaper La Presse, revealed that Montreal police had obtained court warrants to collect data from his phone records. Chamberland is expected to submit a final report to the Canadian government by March 1, 2018, according to the Montreal Gazette, an English-language daily newspaper.

In addition to Saillant, six other journalists were also put under surveillance by Quebec provincial police, according to La Presse. The reporters, whose phone records were collected in a 2013 subpoena, are: Alain Gravel, Marie-Maude-Denis, and Isabelle Richer of the national French-language broadcaster Radio-Canada; Denis Lessard and André Cédilot of La Presse; and Éric Thibault of Le Journal de Montréal.

CPJ has documented recent cases of surveillance of journalists across Canada. A timeline of specific incidents, beginning in January 2016, can be found here.

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