Asking tough questions is not harassment

Monday, March 19, 2018
1 reactions

A journalist's role is historically to ask tough questions in the public interest. This can often mean repeatedly contacting the subject of a story for comment. Image: Wikimedia Commons 

CJFE is gravely concerned by the arrest of journalist Antoine Trépanier, an employee of Radio Canada, by the Gatineau police (SPVG) on suspicion of criminal harassment.

Trépanier was making inquiries into the case of Yvonne Dubé, who was court ordered to stop her legal practice after being found to have worked as a lawyer in Ontario without a law license. Trépanier did connect briefly with Dubé for comment but following his initial questions she withdrew from a scheduled on camera interview. Dubé is an affiliate of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada.

According to a statement on their website, Gatineau Police were contacted by a woman complaining about a threat and repeated unwanted communications.”The alleged victim wrote a formal statement indicating fear for her safety as a result of threats received and repeated communications from a man. Judging the statement credible and following analysis of the evidence, a police officer called the individual to inform him that he was the subject of a criminal harassment complaint.”

It is a journalist’s job to ask difficult questions. This often also means giving the respondent in a story every chance to respond. In order to ensure that response, it is a common practice for journalists to both try to proactively contact the subject of a story and to advise the subject that the content of a story may negatively impact them if they fail to provide a response or relevant commentary. Whether that is what happened in this case remains unclear.

“Journalists need to be able to do their jobs, which means asking tough questions," said CJFE Executive Director Duncan Pike. "People have a right to challenge community leaders. Part of doing that is allowing journalists to do their jobs. The law is intended to protect victims of domestic abuse, stalking or other serious criminal behavior. Using it as a way to discourage or silence speech, advocacy or public interest journalism is deeply troubling.”

A statement on the Radio-Canada website elaborates the details of communications between Trépanier and Dubé and says “The management of Radio-Canada supports its journalist and his work both ethically and legally.”

CJFE is calling on the Director of Criminal and Penal Prosecutions to withhold charges against Trépanier out of consideration for the substantial impact such charges would have on the state of press freedom in Canada. Charging a journalist for doing their job, which involves asking difficult questions in a proactive fashion, would set a chilling precedent, eroding conditions for free expression in journalism.

A copy of this letter was sent to the Director of Criminal and Penal Prosecutions in Gatineau.

UPDATE March 20, 2018: The original version of this alert also mentioned the case of Robin Edgar, a Montreal citizen who has been charged with criminal harassment against borough mayor of CDN-NDG Sue Montgomery. For clarification, the Trépanier and Edgar cases are distinct from one another and ought to be considered separately. They should not have been linked in the same article. 

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  • Robin Edgar
    commented 2018-03-17 12:00:45 -0400
    Another way of saying “activist blogger” is “citizen journalist”, and in several phone calls I did warn CJFE staff that, if former Montreal Gazette “Justice Reporter”, Montreal Unitarian clergy abuse enabler, and Valérie Plante’s recently appointed Deputy Mayor(ess) of Montreal could get away with abusing her power and authority as mayor of Côte-des-Neiges-Notre-Dame-de-Grâce and Deputy Mayor(ess) of Montréal by having me arrested and charged with criminal harassment, in a deeply misguided and UNethical misuse of Canad’s criminal harassment law that was-is clearly intended to silence a vocal critic, that similar abusive misuses of Canada’s criminal harassment law could be used against professional journalists, and now it has actually happened. . . I can’t help but wonder if Yvonne Dubé got the idea to have Radio Canada journalist Antoine Trépanier arrested for alleged criminal harassment as a direct result of reading comparatively uncritical reports about me arrest for alleged criminal harassment of Sue Montgomery in La Presse and the Journal de Montréal etc.

    I am very confident that I will be acquitted of the highly questionable criminal harassment charge that a Montréal Crown Prosecutor saw fit to bring against me (assuming that this dubious, if not completely bogus, criminal harassment charge is not dropped before the September 10th trial date) when the Crown Prosecutor is unable to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Montreal’s Deputy Mayor Sue Montgomery actually has “reasonable grounds” to fear for her safety. I firmly believed that it will be a miscarriage of justice if I am found guilty by a Québec court judge and I will most certainly appeal a guilty verdict. I was somewhat surprised that the Crown Prosecutor decided to file the charge, in light of the rather flimsy evidence against me that the SPVM provided to the Crown, but I would actually like this charge to go to trial so that I can further expose not only Sue Montgomery’s complicity in Unitarian Universalist clergy abuse cover-up efforts, but also the SPVM incompetence that resulted in my arrest at Montréal city hall as I waited to ask Valérie Plante a question about how to go about filing a formal ethics complaint against her “less than honest” clergy abuse enabling, and indeed power abusing, Deputy Mayor Sue Montgomery. I hope to finally be able to ask Val Plante that question at an upcoming Montréal city council meeting, now that my lawyer was able to get my court imposed conditions clarified and modified in such a way that expressly allows me to attend city council meetings that are open to the public in Côte-des-Neiges-Notre-Dame-de-Grâce and Montréal proper.

    “When asked directly by CJFE whether Edgar had ever given Montgomery a specific reason to fear for her safety, she stated that she had no such fears.”

    This alone should be enough to introduce reasonable doubt that should ensure my acquittal, but there is other evidence that Sue Montgomery does not genuinely fear for her personal safety, even though she claimed to in her five page saga of a police report. Based on how Montreal Unitarian clergy abuse enbabler Sue Montgomery has reacted to my peaceful public protests against her complicity in Unitarian Universalist clergy abuse cover-up efforts, and my few “contentious questions” posed to her during and following Montreal’s municipal elections, I have no reason to believe that she genuinely fears for her personal safety in terms of fearing that I might physically assault her. I have a long track record of non-violence. The only thing Sue Montgomery fears for is her reputation, and I believe that Sue has only further damaged her reputation as a self-described “human rights defender” by attempting to misuse Canada’s criminal harassment law in her misguided efforts to prevent me from asking more “tough questions” about her complicity in, and even personal involvement in. . . Unitarian Universalist clergy abuse cover-up, and related misuse of SPVM power, at city council meetings.

    As CJFE knows, and as The Gazette’s court reporter Paul Cherry effectively confirms in his shamefully biased reporting on my arrest that CJFE links to, The Gazette’s “Justice Reporter” Sue Montgomery somehow persuaded her employer to have Montreal media lawyer Mark Bantey have me served with a cease and desist demand letter (falsely) accusing me of making “libellous statements” about Sue’s complicty in Unitarian Universalist clergy abuse cover-up efforts on December 4th of 2014. Funny how Paul Cherry neglected aka FAILed to mention that Sue Montgomery’s, and indeed The Gazette’s. . . dubious libel accusations against me have “not been proven in court” as newspapers normally do when libel accusations are not substantiated in a court of law. . . The Gazette’s and Sue Montgomery’s BS libel accusation against me will never be proven in court because they are demonstrably false, and I believe Mark Bantey knew this even before writing his worthless cease and desist demand latter that was never acted upon after I demolished his claims in my initial response to it.

    I look forward to similarly discrediting the highly questionable “evidence” that is contained in Sue Montgonery’s five page police report which actually contains certain statements that may be used to introduce proverbial “reasonable doubt”. Doh!

    Although I am not a professional journalist, I can be reasonably described as a “citizen journalist” or, as this CJFE statement puts it, an “activist blogger”. I remind CJFE and all professional journalists that the outcome of my trial, assuming it goes ahead, has serious implications for the ability of professional journalists to do their jobs, and call upon Canadian journalist who value freedom of expression to speak out against this disturbing misuse of Canada’s criminal harassment law as Sue Montgomery’s way of discouraging and-or silencing speech, advocacy, and indeed public interest citizen journalism.