Warrants reveal Montreal police went against Supreme Court ruling when they spied on a journalist

Montreal police appear to have gone against a Supreme Court of Canada ruling when they obtained a warrant to spy on a journalist.

That information was revealed today as a Quebec court unsealed the search warrants for La Presse journalist Patrick Lagacé.

Police tracked Lagacé's movements through his smartphone and monitored his phone records, as part of an investigation against a sergeant-detective suspected of planting drugs on suspects, among other illegal activity.

But police already had warrants to monitor the officer in order to collect evidence.

In 1992 the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that police were allowed to obtain warrants that would give them access to journalists' confidential sources, but with the caveat that it could only be done if the information couldn't be obtained any other way. 

According to media lawyer Mark Bantey, the new information shows that Montreal police should not have sought a warrant against Lagacé.

"The execution of the surveillance warrants against Patrick Lagacé bears no relationship whatsoever to the criminal offences they suspect the police committed in this case. Therefore even the basic criteria for a search warrant against an ordinary citizen are not satisfied, let alone those for a journalist."

"As far as I'm concerned, it's an abuse of power by the police."

Bantey also says that the newly-released warrants also show that Montreal police had no policy in place for approaching the question of searching journalists and respecting the privacy of journalists' interview subjects.

"They show that the police have no policy in place governing search warrants targeting journalists when they should have a policy in place."

"Special precautions have to be taken to protect journalists' sources and this obviously was not done."

Bantey notes that the new information also shows that senior officers were aware of Lagacé being tracked.

"The warrant does indicate that the higher ups at the SPVM were aware of what was going on."

Lagacé was not available for comment, but La Presse, where Lagacé works, is reportedly asking a judge to reverse the search warrant.