MONTREAL – A Quebec police chief has defended the decision to arrest a reporter after the subject of a story he was working on lodged a complaint of criminal harassment.
Radio-Canada said Friday the complaint against Antoine Trepanier stems from calls and emails he sent seeking reaction to a story about the head of the chapter of Big Brothers Big Sisters in western Quebec. The network said the complainant was Yvonne Dube, who is executive director of the organization’s Gatineau chapter and the subject of the interview requests.
Gatineau police Chief Mario Harel held a news conference Friday to defend the process that led to Trepanier’s arrest this week.
“It is our duty to respond to an (alleged) victim’s complaint, which we did, and it’s our duty to protect the public,” Harel said. “We have the obligation to listen to the (alleged) victim, take their statement and, with that statement, we assess the situation.
“Once we deal with a person suspected of having committed an infraction under the Criminal Code, the first thing we have to do is to give him his rights – the right to keep silent and the right to have a lawyer.”
He refused to say whether Trepanier gave police his version of events.
Radio-Canada said it is standing behind Trepanier, whose investigation involved an Ontario court decision that said
Dube falsely passed herself off as a lawyer between September 2011 and March 2012.
“We find that his arrest was unfounded, that he was only doing his job and that he fully respected the CBC’s journalistic standards and practices,” Yvan Cloutier, Radio-Canada’s director of French services in Gatineau, said in a statement on the network’s website.
Trepanier will continue to work as a reporter in the Gatineau newsroom.
The CBC’s French-language network said the reporter first contacted Dube on Monday and spoke to her for 20 minutes. It said she initially agreed to an on-camera interview before backing out. The reporter then emailed her again Tuesday to give her another chance for an interview.
The complaint was filed later that day and the reporter was called to the police station in the Hull district.
Accompanied by two managers, Trepanier was arrested and released on a promise to appear in court June 20. Gatineau police said it would be up to the Crown to decide whether charges would be filed.
Trepanier is not permitted to contact Dube and must notify police of any change in address or employment.
Stephane Giroux, head of the Quebec journalists’ federation called the arrest “extremely worrying” and noted it was based solely on a single complaint without investigation.
By imposing a condition of no contact, the journalist doing his job has in effect been silenced, Giroux said.
Canadian Journalists For Free Expression also said it is “gravely concerned” by the decision to arrest Trepanier and called on the Crown to withhold charges given the impact a charge could have on press freedom.
The organization said a reporter’s job involves asking difficult questions of community leaders and acting proactively to give the respondent a chance to comment.
“The law is intended to protect victims of domestic abuse, stalking or other serious criminal behaviour,” executive director Duncan Pike said in a letter to the Crown. “Using it as a way to discourage or silence speech, advocacy or public interest journalism is deeply troubling.”