Montreal police chief defends OK'ing warrant request for journalist's phone data

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Montreal police Chief Philippe Pichet says he went along with a warrant request for a journalist's phone data because he was satisfied the investigators had exhausted all other available options.

Pichet is now into his second day of testimony before a commission of inquiry looking into police surveillance of journalists led by Quebec Court of Appeal Justice Jacques Chamberland. CBC/Radio-Canada is a participant at the commission.

Other journalists on story, so why spy on Lagacé?

Christian Leblanc, the lawyer representing CBC/Radio-Canada and other news organizations, pointed out that the request for La Presse journalist Patrick Lagacé's phone data came at time when other journalists were also writing about an internal police probe into allegations that anti-gang officers had been fabricating evidence.

Pichet responded that investigators were already aware that Lagacé was in contact with police officer Fayçal Djelidi, one of the officers being investigated, and they thought the journalist could have been communicating with other reporters.

Police obtained 24 warrants to track Lagacé's whereabouts using the GPS chip in his iPhone and to obtain the identities of everyone he had spoken with and texted.

Pichet said he only found out after the fact that the warrant had been renewed and that it gave investigators the power to track Lagacé's GPS, though Pichet said this last power was not used.

Speaking to journalists after his testimony, Pichet said it's impossible to know the details of every warrant requested by Montreal police investigators.

"I don't have to see the warrants myself," he said. "Do you know how many investigations there are at SPVM? I cannot, humanly speaking ... read all of these warrants."

Pichet said he would have liked to have been better informed about the investigation, adding the force will be adopting new rules when it comes to the surveillance of journalists.

"I don't feel I made a mistake, but now, knowing all that, we'll make sure we put some measures in place and make sure we don't miss something," he said.

2 faced disciplinary action

Pichet revealed that at least two officers faced disciplinary action following the surveillance of Lagacé.

On this point, Leblanc asked Pichet about whether data gathered from the surveillance of Lagacé's phone was subsequently used as part of disciplinary hearings against police officers.

Pichet said information from criminal investigations can be used in disciplinary investigations, but he couldn't say whether that had happened in this case.

Pichet added that he did not want information gained specifically from the surveillance of journalists to be used for disciplinary purposes, only for criminal investigations.

Leblanc questioned this rule, asking if it was official police force policy or just an idea in Pichet's head.

"It's in my head," replied Pichet. "Not written down — not yet."

Pichet added that this will be established officially as a rule for investigators, along with any other recommendations from the commission.

The Chamberland Commission was launched after it was revealed a number of journalists had been the target of surveillance by Montreal police and the Sûreté du Québec.

SQ Chief Martin Prud'homme testified on Monday that his police force had put a total of seven journalists under surveillance. That is one more than previously revealed.

Top provincial police brass who testified Monday said there were no rules in place about surveillance of journalists before Public Security Minister Martin Coiteux asked for procedures last fall.

The commission is due to submit a report in March 2018.