Last month, Montreal’s international reputation took a hit thanks to Denis Coderre’s pit bull ban. This was amplified by celebrities speaking out against it. Now, we’ve caught the attention of famed whistleblower Edward Snowden, who tweeted this:
Are you a journalist? The police spying on you specifically to ID your sources isn’t a hypothetical. This is today. https://t.co/6JtOIb7Q4n pic.twitter.com/p4pURXH4nU
— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) October 31, 2016
Snowden linked to a Montreal Gazette article about the Montreal Police (SPVM) spying on La Presse journalist Patrick Lagacé’s cellphone. Lagacé had been looking into Escouade, the police task force dealing with street gangs and drugs, and the possibility that they were fabricating evidence.
The SPVM wanted to know who the journalist’s sources were. They asked for and received 24 warrants to monitor Lagacé iPhone, record its metadata and track his GPS location between January and July of this year.
These came out in the investigation into Costa Labos. The former head of Internal Affairs at the SPVM confirmed that they had been spying on Lagacé.
For Snowden, this story serves as a warning for journalists everywhere: if you don’t protect your phone data and GPS location, you may be putting your sources at risk. It’s also an indictment of the fundamental disrespect some police forces have for freedom of the press.
For Montreal, though, it means that once again, we are a shining example to the world of the wrong way to do things. And the ultimate culprit may just be the same one as the pit bull ban, or at least quite close.
As Alex Norris, City Councillor with Official Oppositon party Projet Montreal said in the same Gazette article Snowden tweeted: “We believe that it is inconceivable that an operation this sensitive would not have been approved by Philippe Pichet. If he wasn’t advised of this operation then it means he has lost control of his organization.”
If it goes as high as Pichet, then it’s not that far from the office of the man who appointed him: Mayor Denis Coderre. The sad thing is, spying on police is not out of character for Coderre, either.
For the second time in as many months, Montreal is in the international spotlight. And we don’t look good.
* Featured image of an SPVM officer going through a protester’s bag in July 2015 by Cem Ertekin