Court says it was okay for cops to seize a Montreal journalist's laptop

Journal de Montreal and reporter Michael Nguyen are fighting the validity of the search warrant, just one of many ongoing press freedom battles happening across Canada.

by Rachel Browne
Dec 30 2016, 11:02am

A Montreal newspaper says it will appeal a decision by the Quebec Superior Court that ruled police officers acted legally when they seized a journalist’s laptop in September.

Journal de Montreal and reporter Michael Nguyen fought the validity of the search warrant, arguing that police used insufficient evidence to get it. It’s one of many ongoing battles for press freedom happening across Canada.

Nguyen’s computer was confiscated from the Journal’s offices after he wrote a story in June about an official complaint lodged against another Quebec judge, Suzanne Vadboncoeur, by a special constable who alleges she hurled abusive comments at constables during a Christmas party last year at the courthouse.

The story included information regarding evidence that had not yet been made public, and investigators believed it had been illegally obtained.According to the newspaper, which is the highest circulating French news outlet in Quebec, the body that hears complaints against judges believes Nguyen hacked their website to get that information.

“We are responding that that is completely false. Our reporter did nothing whatsoever illegal to get access to that story,” Journal de Montreal editor George Kologerakis told VICE News in September. “They’re trying to find out where we got our story because they’re embarrassed by it.”

Media lawyer Mark Bantey told the Montreal Gazette he’s concerned that the judge who issued the search warrant against Nguyen relied on hearsay evidence. “As is turns out, the supposedly confidential information the journalist obtained was widely available to the public on the Internet via Google,” he said.

The ruling against Nguyen and the Journal de Montreal comes amid other recent revelations about attacks on press freedom in Canada, which has no laws to protect the work of journalists nor their sources.

VICE News is in the midst of its own fight against an RCMP production order that reporter Ben Makuch hand over all notes and correspondence with a suspected Islamic State fighter. The appeal in that case will be heard early next year.

In October, it was revealed that at least 10 other journalists in Quebec were being spied on by the provincial government or local police, including well-known columnist Patrick Lagacé whose whereabouts were also being tracked with a GPS monitor. In November, the province announced it would hold an inquiry into surveillance of journalists.

Last month, a number of journalists and press freedom advocates called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Liberal government to follow many other Western nations and craft legislation to protect journalists, including shield laws that would prevent law enforcement from forcing journalists to compromise their sources.

ben makuch
Journal de Montréal
search warrants
Michael Nguyen