New federal law in the works that would limit police spying on journalists

June 13, 2017

Federal legislation that could become law by the end of the summer will make it more difficult for police to place journalists under surveillance.

The bill, drafted by Conservative Senator Claude Carignan, would effectively bring an end to police using the tactic to identify confidential sources of information that is embarrassing to politicians and other public officials.

"It is probably the biggest step for the free press since the adoption of the Charter of Rights in 1982," Carignan told CBC News.

A public inquiry into the surveillance of journalists by Quebec police is currently underway in Montreal. It heard testimony earlier this month that police tracked the cellphone data of a journalist from La Presse after Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre became upset that someone leaked one of his old traffic tickets.

Coderre acknowledged having called then police Chief Marc Parent in 2014 to complain that his personal information was making its to reporters, seemingly from someone within the police department.

The mayor denied ordering an investigation into the leak.

Montreal police, nevertheless, responded by launching an internal affairs probe the following day, during which La Presse journalist Patrick Lagacé came under surveillance.

Carignan's bill would ensure police could only spy on journalists if there was an overriding public interest in identifying their sources, and if they had no other means of discovering that information.

The Quebec senator is following the proceedings of the inquiry, which is examining at least 10 instances when police in the province spied on journalists in recent years.

He said, based on the evidence he's heard so far, none of those case would meet the new standard set out in his bill — "I can't imagine ... that a judge would authorize a warrant with the same facts." 

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