Quebec public inquiry will examine surveillance of journalists

The province's two largest police forces admitted this week to keeping tabs on the phones of several journalists in recent years

MONTREAL — The Quebec government announced a full public inquiry Thursday into the police surveillance of journalists after revelations various forces monitored reporters’ phones.

A panel of experts announced earlier this week will now have all the powers typically given to a commission of inquiry, including being able to compel witnesses to testify, said Justice Minister Stephanie Vallee.

The province’s two largest police forces admitted this week to keeping tabs on the phones of several journalists in recent years.

“We came to this conclusion this morning after an analysis of the different information made public yesterday (Wednesday),” Vallee said in Quebec City. “We consider it’s important for the population of Quebec to trust their public institutions.”

On Wednesday, Quebec provincial police said they had employed the controversial tactic on six prominent journalists in 2013 in an effort to track down a person alleged to have leaked sensitive wiretap information involving a prominent labour leader.

Earlier on Thursday, Parti Quebecois member Stephane Bergeron, the public security minister at the time of the provincial police surveillance, stepped down as opposition critic in the field.

He said he did so because he feared becoming a distraction to the party.

A day earlier, Bergeron denied asking that journalists be tracked.

He acknowledged having contacted the provincial police director at the time, Mario Laprise, following a complaint from ex-union boss Michel Arsenault over alleged leaked wiretaps.

Vallee said the admission by provincial police played a part in the decision to expand the mandate of the group of experts. They have not yet been named.

Premier Philippe Couillard’s decision to form the committee of experts followed revelations Montreal police kept tabs on the iPhone of a La Presse reporter.

On Tuesday, Couillard said the panel would include a judge, a police official and a member of the media.

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