Police Union Joins Rights Groups In Criticizing Police Chief For Snooping On Journalists

from the biting-the-hand-that-feeds-its-dues-paying-members dept

Police unions are best known for creating distance. They carve out space between police officers and accountability. They widen the gap between fiction and reality. They often act like the loudmouthed relative with the missing brain/mouth filter you always hope won’t insert themselves into discussions about current events.

On rare, rare occasions, they come across misconduct even they can’t condone. Every so often, police union heads act like normal, decent human beings.

The head of the Montreal police union said police Chief Philippe Pichet should be fired for allowing his officers to spy on journalists, calling the decision to track the cellphones of La Presse columnist Patrick Lagacé and at least three other reporters “unforgivable.”

“It was a serious error in judgment and it is unforgivable,” Yves Francoeur, head of La Fraternité des policiers et policières de Montréal told the Montreal Gazette Tuesday. “The SPVM is the second largest police service in Quebec and the fifth largest municipal force in North America, so we need a strong leader.”

The Montreal Police obtained 24 search warrants to surveil Lagacé, including one that allowed the surreptitious activation of his phone’s GPS. At least three other journalists were subjected to the same scrutiny.

The union head pointed out that Chief Pichet was well aware existing laws made surveillance of journalists something to be done only as a last resort in the most serious cases of criminal activity. The Montreal Police, however, began surveilling Lagacé because it was trying to determine who was leaking information from an internal corruption investigation.

In the effort to protect the department from damaging revelations, the Montreal Police chief has managed to push the police union into coming down on the same side as many of its usual enemies: journalists, privacy activists, and civil rights groups.

Even in the midst of all this pushback, Chief Pichet believes the surveillance was justified because his department has a “responsibility to investigate all crimes involving officers.” Apparently, this includes tracking journalists because they may have talked to police officers.

It’s unknown why the warrants were approved by a judge, considering the protections members of the press are usually afforded. The warrants are due to be released later in November. Privacy Lab’s Christopher Parsons suggests the answer may lie in a cyberbullying law that creates a brand new set of law enforcement loopholes. The law permits police to “track an object, person, or transmission of data if the authorities have the suspicion or belief that doing so could assist an investigation.” But it’s not solely limited to cyberbullying, which was how the bill was packaged. (h/t Reason)

Parsons said that Bill C-13 was “sold to the Canadian public as necessary to stop cyberbullying,” but applies to the general public.

“These orders that were used to conduct surveillance on the journalist and his respective sources, those are all powers that can be used in ongoing investigations, so most Canadian citizens will be subject to them,” he said.

How handy to have a law like this to exploit to search out journalists’ sources. The release of warrants should clear up the legal authority apparently abused here. C-13 is abuse waiting to happen, so it’s likely this broadly-written law is the culprit. If so, nothing really stands in the way of law enforcement surveilling those normally meant to be shielded by Canada’s Constitutional protections.

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Comments on “Police Union Joins Rights Groups In Criticizing Police Chief For Snooping On Journalists”

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Anon E. Mous (profile) says:

The scary thing is that the one reporter was tipped off about being spied on and she didn’t believe it when she was told.

The fact that reporter was told she was being spied on is what got this whole mass spying case blown out of the water. If it wasnt for the fact that one reporter was tipped of, none of the media outlets and their reporters would have even known.

How in the world the police were able to convince a Judge and the crown to agree to put this forth to the court in their warrant application is beyond belief and the fact that the methods used to obtain and to turn on and activate the GPS component of the person under surveillance’s phone goes far beyond just getting names and phone numbers of calls and goes slightly beyond the police agency involved capabilities.

One would have to belief their was either some type of device/software or other agency like CSIS involved who would have the capabilities to do this unless the Mobile service provider was ordered to do turn on the GPS feature with a warrant and I am skeptical of that, so I believe either this police agency has some toys they aren’t disclosing or they got some help from Canada’s spy agency CSIS.

The applications and affidavits used to obtain the warrants for each reporter need to be brought to light as well as the software/devices involved in the tracking and tracing of the calls and messages and whether any other agencies that were involved in enabling and activating the GPS component of each reporters phone.

There is something very very fishy about how this took place and who is all involved, this is more than a phone tap warrant in my opinion

Paul Renault (profile) says:

I'm not saying it's a Canadian thing, but..

In a typically Canadian fashion, an Expert Group, having the power of a Commission of Inquiry has been formed to look into this affair.

It’s true that Canadian police forces have had multiple instances of shameful behaviour, the idea that "the public is the enemy of the police" isn’t deeply entrenched in the cops’ minds like it is in the ‘States.

In a related case, the Federal Court has ruled that CSIS broke the law by keeping personal metadata for ten years (that is, beyond the authorized one-year limit).
From the ruling: "In addition, the CSIS has breached its duty of candour towards the Court by failing to inform it clearly and transparently of its retention program, more specifically in regard to associated data collected and retained through the operation of warrants."

Take that!, meaning-obfuscating NSA language!

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

“responsibility to investigate all crimes involving officers.”

So who is going to investigate the Chief?
It is obvious that pushing the law to ‘protect’ the image of what clearly is a corrupt department should result in deep investigation.

The I was just following orders defense should provide no cover, there are some fundamental freedoms spelled out clearly in Canada and skirting those issues to protect the department might explain why there was information on corruption to report on.

This is the dark downside to all of these laws they swore we needed to be safe, they will be used in ways no one finds acceptable. With unlimited power & no oversight protecting the programs will be the top priority, while ignoring what they claimed it was all about.

Chris Beck says:

Note that this police chief is in the middle of a bit of a battle with the rank and file over his attempts to clean up the internal affairs division. Note also that Francouer says nothing about the police officers doing the investigating. Finally, the authority for the shipping was gagged by a justice of the peace, they weren’t full blown judge-certified warrants thanks mostly to the horrible bill C-13

Anonymous Coward says:

*Italic*The head of the Montreal police union said police Chief Philippe Pichet should be fired for allowing his officers to spy on journalists*Italic*

Good start. Now once he start advocating firing the officers who requested and followed through with the warrants, I might take him seriously. Otherwise, this is just the head of a police union saying that we should fire someone who is sort of usually sometimes an enemy of the police union.

peter says:

Normal decent human beings eh?

“should be fired for allowing his officers to spy on journalists”

So the union is trying to get the focus of their member’s own illegal actions moved by trying to throw the boss under the bus.

“Normal” and “Decent” might not be the two words I would use describe their actions.

Anonymous Coward says:

Worse than that

The provincial police (SQ) had 6 journalists under monitoring for long periods of time, up to five years so some predates C-13 (passed in 2014). The total count of monitored journalist in recent years is 11 now and that’s only in the Province of Quebec.


The judges handing the warrant are closer to clerks than real judges and most often are former DA layers so they’re happy to oblige. Allegations of warrant rubber stamping (like anyone is surprised) are going around.

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