OTTAWA – Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale says RCMP investigators have been reprimanded for conducting unauthorized surveillance on two journalists nine years ago.
Goodale’s comments Wednesday followed a CBC News report that a rogue group of RCMP officers investigating a leak of a secret document spied on the pair for more than a week without authorization.
The Mounties placed two Ottawa-based journalists working for Montreal newspaper La Presse, Joel-Denis Bellavance and Gilles Toupin, under physical surveillance for nine days in 2007, says the report, based on a government briefing note obtained by the broadcaster through the Access to Information Act.
The RCMP was looking into the leak of a Canadian Security Intelligence Service document about a terror suspect. The police force hoped that keeping tabs on the reporters would lead them to the leaker.
CBC says the surveillance was done without the required permission of Bob Paulson, an acting assistant commissioner at the time and now commissioner of the RCMP.
The Mounties had no immediate details Wednesday about the reprimands.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the surveillance was unacceptable and noted that an apology had been given to the journalists involved.
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair said a public inquiry should be called into the matter and the New Democrats pressed the Liberals during the daily question period in the House of Commons.
“Freedom of the press is a fundamental Canadian value that’s enshrined in the charter,” Goodale told the House.
“The unauthorized surveillance was entirely unacceptable. It was contrary to a ministerial directive. It was contrary to RCMP policy, and it was stopped when RCMP headquarters became aware of it, and the investigators have been reprimanded.”
The rogue team was acting contrary to the RCMP rule book for investigations into so-called “sensitive sectors,” a term that refers to criminal probes involving academia, politics, religion, the media and trade unions, the CBC said.
According to the broadcaster, the briefing note says the unidentified Mounties received “criticism” for not seeking approval for the nine-day surveillance operation.
“While journalists have no privilege or immunity from investigation, the application of the RCMP’s sensitive sector approval policy recognizes that the state’s interests in the investigation of crime and the freedom of the press (or religious/academic freedom) need to be balanced appropriately on a case-by-case basis,” says the note, approved by Paulson on Nov. 13 last year.
“Vital to maintaining this balance is the centralized independent governance of these criminal investigations — a framework that was just being implemented at the time of these events in 2007.”
Though the RCMP monitoring of the two reporters was unauthorized, the note adds that “limited physical surveillance” of the journalists was approved by the police force in 2008 but never carried out.