Edward Snowden calls Canada police spying a ‘radical attack’ on journalists
Edward Snowden is calling for the resignation of Montreal’s police chief, amid allegations that police forces in the Canadian province secretly monitored the phones of at least seven journalists.
Snowden spoke via video link at Montreal’s McGill University, after news broke that police in the city had spent five months tracking the phone of a prominent journalist in order to identify his sources.
The scandal deepened on Wednesday after Québec provincial police admitted they had obtained warrants in 2013 to spy on another six journalists with the aim of ferreting out media leaks within the police force.
Speaking to a packed auditorium, the NSA whistleblower described the police actions as a “radical attack on the operations of the free press” and wondered whether the law was beginning to fail in its role as a guarantor of rights.
Montreal police have defended their actions, claiming that it was an exceptional situation. The surveillance was part of an investigation into allegations that police officers in the drugs and street gangs unit had fabricated evidence. Five officers were arrested over the allegations this summer.
After police detected contact between one of the officers under investigation and La Presse journalist Patrick Lagacé, they obtained warrants to track Lagacé’s iPhone. Police actions were aimed at investigating police officers, not Lagacé, Montreal police chief Philippe Pichet said on Monday.
“We are very aware of the importance of freedom of the press,” said Pichet. “But on the other hand, there were criminal allegations against a police officer … and we have a job to do.”
Echoing a call by some Montreal city councillors, Snowden suggested the police chief should resign. “Rather than the police chief saying ‘all right this was clearly something that went too far and regardless of whether or not I authorised this operation, I recognise that to restore trust I need to re-establish the basis of accountability … for that reason I have chosen to resign.’ We don’t see the mayor calling for that, we don’t see the local premier calling for that.”
The story, said Snowden, fits a broader narrative of governments masking their own actions as they peer into the lives of private citizens. “This inverts the traditional dynamic of private citizen and public officials into this brave new world we’re facing of private officials and public citizens,” he said.
On Thursday, the Québec government said it would launch a full public inquiry into the affair. “We consider that it’s important for the public of Québec to trust their public institutions,” Stéphanie Vallée, the province’s justice minister, told reporters.