A CBC Radio-Canada reporter has been arrested after contacting the subject of a story he was working on, accused of criminal harassment.
Antoine Trépanier was working on a story about the head of Big Brothers and Big Sisters in Western Quebec. As part of his investigation, he reported Yvonne Dubé falsely claimed she was a lawyer between the fall of 2011 and March 2012.
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According to his boss, Yvan Cloutier, Trépanier contacted Dubé three times in the course of his reporting. First, they had a 20-minute phone call, where she agreed to meet for a television interview. Cloutier says she never showed up – hence the second call, where she told Trépanier she’d changed her mind. He sent an email the next day to give her another opportunity.
“We do this every day,” says Cloutier of his reporter’s work. “We give a heads up. We call that person, we say, ‘You know what, in the next couple of days, we will run a story about you, would you like to give us your point of view?’
But Dubé filed a lengthy complaint with the Gatineau City Police Department. Cloutier says officers called Trépanier to inform him he was being arrested on Tuesday night, without asking any questions about his actions. They told him to appear at the station, which he did.
He’s now waiting to see if he’ll be charged. In Quebec, that decision lies with the provincial Crown, and not officers.
Gatineau City Police Department Chief Mario Harel would not answer questions about the specifics of the investigation.
“We have to do our work very thoroughly to make sure that we don’t … just take a statement and not take into consideration, ‘Is the person telling the truth?’” Harel told a room of reporters at a news conference Friday afternoon.
“We’re applying the Criminal Code and after this complaint by the victim, the officer in charge believed… he had reasonable grounds that there was an infraction that has been committed and he acted on it, so we did our job in that.”
Cloutier called the allegations unfounded. “We should be worried,” he told Global News.
“As a general rule, I’ve never heard of a reporter being arrested for trying to do his job,” said Carleton University journalism professor Chris Waddell.
“If we start to see this more often and more regularly, it will be very damaging for the public’s right to know, and it will be a dangerous precedent that will certainly be overturned once it gets to court,” he told Global News.
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“So it becomes a total waste of everybody’s time, effort, energy and money.”
The Canadian Association of Journalists condemns the arrest.
“Pursuing comment from the key subject in a story is the basis of responsible journalism,” said president Nick Taylor-Vaisey in a statement, calling this a “troubling” incident.
“We understand it’s a journalist and it’s sensitive,” said Chief Harel. “We have to do our job very thoroughly.”
Media lawyer David Sutherland also hasn’t seen an arrest like this in his career, and calls it “a real threat.”
“In order to be charged with harassment, someone had to come to the conclusion there was a reasonable apprehension of safety,” he told Global News.
“That a reporter was basically threatening the source in some way that threatens their safety on a repeated basis, knowing it’s threatening that source.”
“There has to be a line there. I would be astounded if it was crossed,” said Sutherland.
Trépanier has been back at work since the arrest, waiting to learn if he faces charges. He’s not working on the Dubé story anymore.
When asked if Radio-Canada is considering legal action against police, Cloutier said right now, they are focusing on the Crown.
“Our energy is towards that body … to make sure they know they get our point of view before they make a decision to press charges against a reporter.”
-With files from Robin Gill