Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre defended himself Monday against accusations a call he made to his police chief in 2014 caused a journalist to be put under surveillance.
The mayor said he contacted then-police head Marc Parent in 2014 because he felt he was being unfairly targeted by the police union.
"I understand why you are being aggressive — this issue touches all of you," Coderre told reporters in Levis, near Quebec City.
"I have absolutely no responsibility — none," he said regarding reports that Montreal police spied on La Presse columnist Patrick Lagace in 2014 and again this year. "I don't get involved in investigations or with judges."
Quebec's police forces have come under immense criticism after recent revelations Montreal and provincial cops had obtained warrants to spy on the phone records of several journalists in order to discover who had been leaking information to them.
Lagace said Monday he heard from a source in 2014 that Coderre had used his contacts to avoid paying a hefty traffic ticket. The reporter emailed the mayor's spokesperson for comment and, in the end, determined there was no basis to the story. Nothing was published.
However, Lagace said he learned his email to the mayor's office triggered an internal police investigation into who had leaked him the information, which eventually led to the force obtaining a warrant for his phone records.
Coderre said Monday there was "tension" at the time between his office and the police union.
He said he called the police chief to find out if it was common for someone to dip into a traffic violation database and give information to journalists.
"That's not normal," Coderre said. "That's an abuse of power."
He said all he wanted to do was signal to Parent that the head of the police union had been publicly talking about one of his traffic tickets.
Parent, during an interview with Radio-Canada on Monday, confirmed Coderre had called to tell him about a journalist who had been given confidential information.
The ex-police chief said he alerted internal affairs about the mayor's complaint and only discovered recently in news reports that a journalist's phone records were obtained.
Parent said he "never felt influenced by the mayor. And I've worked through four mayors.
"What should guide our decisions are our values and ethics we bring to the job," he said.
Current police Chief Philippe Pichet has admitted the force obtained warrants to wiretap the phones of officers who were being investigated for alleged crimes.
Pichet also told a news conference last week that surveillance of Lagace's iPhone was restricted to logging incoming and outgoing numbers and activating the phone's GPS chip.
Following the revelation of spying against Lagace, provincial police have admitted that it too obtained warrants for phone records of several high-profile journalists in the province.
In response, the Quebec government announced last week the creation of a public inquiry into police surveillance of journalists.