MONTREAL — A Montreal journalist says he was furious when he learned that city police monitored his iPhone for months in order to find out who he was speaking with.
"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,'' La Presse columnist Patrick Lagace said in an interview Monday.
"Clearly, I was naive.''
The French-language newspaper reported it has learned at least 24 surveillance warrants were issued for Lagace's phone this year at the request of the police's special investigations unit. That section is responsible for looking into crime within the police force.
Patrick Lagace arrives at the 30th annual Les Prix Gemeaux awards in Montreal on Sept. 20, 2015. (Photo: Denis Beaumont/Canadian Press)
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-issued warrants because they believed the target of one of their investigations was feeding him information.
But he said the story in question was actually first reported on by a competitor, leading him to believe the investigation was actually a thinly veiled attempt to learn the identity of his sources within the police department.
"To me, this was a great pretext to try to investigate a reporter who has done numerous stories in the past that have embarrassed the service,'' he said.
'An unequivocal attack' on journalism
Reaction to La Presse's story was swift, with some unions and media organizations denouncing the police operation, and some opposition city councillors calling for Montreal's police chief 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 the institution that is La Presse and against the entire journalistic profession.''
Mayor Denis Coderre said he was concerned by the report but said it isn't his role to intefere with the work of the courts or the police.
"We have to be concerned and we can't take it lightly,'' he told a news conference in Montreal, adding he had discussed the matter with the police chief and Quebec's public security minister.
"We have to be concerned and we can't take it lightly.''
The outgoing head of internal affairs for the Montreal police confirmed to La Presse he authorized the surveillance.
Costa Labos told the newspaper he didn't believe any other journalists had been the object of surveillance in recent years but he couldn't guarantee it.
He refused to say whether Montreal's police chief was aware of the operation.
Monitoring part of an internal probe
The surveillance was ordered as part of an internal probe into allegations police anti-gang investigators fabricated evidence.
Five police officers were arrested this summer and two were charged as a result.
Lagace said the newspaper is contesting the legality of the warrants and will try to retrieve the information collected by police.
La Presse hasn't decided whether it will pursue further legal action, he said.