Breaking down the trends and rebels of today’s media landscape in Montreal and beyond.
The Fédération professionnelle des journalistes du Québec congress took place from Nov. 18 to 20 in St. Sauveur, Québec. This year’s theme was investigative journalism, but the event also featured conferences about the importance of women in media and the coverage of sexual assault scandal allegations at Université Laval.
Here’s a recap of a selection of the conferences.
Mots et maux du terrorisme moderne (Words and Impacts of Modern Terrorism)
Panel: Gabrielle Duchaine (La Presse), Michel Moutot (a war correspondent who covers terrorism at Agence France-Presse), Fabrice de Pierrebourg (author), Benjamin Ducol (a researcher specializing in radicalization)
The panel first discussed the difficulties of covering terrorism around the world. Moutot, who covers terrorism in Europe for AFP, identified access to sources as the main problem.
Duchaine, La Presse’s beat reporter on radicalisation issues in Quebec, explained that the problem was similar in the province. “It’s a polarizing issue” she explained.
She added that the difference here lies between the openness of French authorities and authorities in Quebec. “Families of radicalized youths [in Quebec] are distrustful with journalists,” she said.
Meanwhile, Moutot explained his tactic of talking with the families called “the coffee machine” technique.
“During breaks in trials [of radicalized individuals] I go to the coffee machine,” Moutot said. “The first day [families and friends] don’t want to talk to you, but the following days, they usually open up and start talking.”
The panel then spoke about how radicalized youths use the internet. Pierrebourg, speaking on Skype from Iraq, where he is covering the Mosul offensive, said that terrorist groups control the web very well.
To that effect, Moutot added, “They know how to use it to spread misinformation.”
In 2015, for example, jihadist Omar Diaby pretended to be dead on social media and then re-appeared in 2016 for an interview with French TV channel France 2.
On the Facebook accounts of to-be jihadists, Benjamin Ducol, the researcher, often saw pictures of deceased and murdered children in Syria. “There’s no radicalization if there’s no indignation,” he explained.
Moutot also discussed the difficulty of covering the war in Syria: most of the coverage comes from four or five women based in Beirut, Lebanon. The AFP journalist explained that the women speak on the phone with Syrian journalists on the ground all day, but it’s a sad job for both.
“One day the [Syrian] guy does not answer anymore because he’s dead,” he said.
Sources: quand faut-il accorder l’anonymat (Sources: When to Give Anonymity)
Panel: Katia Gagnon (Head of Investigations at La Presse), Daniel Leblanc (Reporter at The Globe and Mail), Jean-Philippe Pineault (Director of information at The Canadian Press), Isabelle Richer (Host, Radio-Canada)
Gagnon discussed the risk of using anonymous sources in articles, telling the journalists in the audience that giving anonymity is the last option. “The [person] needs to have valid reasons [to remain anonymous],” she explained, after describing a La Presse article in which she believed the journalist should not have given anonymity.
Journalists should be aware that the person requesting anonymity may be doing it to spin the article. Two sources are needed at the very least, she added.
Leblanc, best known for being the journalist that revealed the Canadian Sponsorship Scandal in the Liberal Party and his anonymous source MaChouette, said that the basis of journalism is speaking to people “informally.”
“The best usage of anonymous sources is to ask good questions,” explained Leblanc. Sources that simply speculate are not good.
“I don’t want a source to tell me ‘Justin Trudeau is dumb,’” said Leblanc. “Tell me why you believe he is dumb.”
Leblanc added it was also important to be considerate of the risk the source is taking by speaking to a journalist—this is why journalists have to be honest with their sources.
Pineault, director of information at The Canadian Press, echoed Gagnon’s comments and explained that he was sometimes disappointed with journalists because they gave anonymity to people that did not deserve it. “I’m not always happy with what’s published with anonymous sources,” said Pineault.
Nonetheless, if the anonymous source talks, it’s the journalist’s job to protect him or her, the panel agreed. “I have sources in the police that would never talk if they had the littlest doubt that they might be revealed,” explained Richer.
Nourrir le chien de garde (Feeding the Guard Dog)
Panel: Isabelle Hachey (Investigative Journalist at La Presse), Martin Bourassa (Editor-in-Chief at Courrier de Saint-Hyacinthe), Claudine Blais (Producer of Enquête)
The panel featured journalists from major organizations, and Bourassa, editor-in-chief of the oldest French newspaper in America, the Courrier de Saint-Hyacinthe.
The paper has won the prize for the best weekly newspaper in Canada nine times since 1990 and in 2000, it won a Judith-Jasmin prize for reporting awarded to the best works of journalism in Quebec.
Bourassa, the paper’s editor since 2004, explained how it’s possible for small newspapers to produce great journalism on a low budget.
Access-to-information requests, he told the crowd, are not investigative journalism themselves. He insisted that investigative journalism does not stop after you’ve receive the first documents. If the documents are not the totality of what was asked, the journalist should appeal until there’s no other option available.
The three agreed that investigative journalism is “not a nine-to-five job.” Hachey talked about one of her techniques: investigation by hypothesis.
“You start with an hypothesis and you try to prove it,” she said. Asked by an audience member if a collaboration between rivals La Presse and Radio-Canada would be possible during an investigation, Blais told the audience that it wasn’t impossible.
However, Hachey added, “On the ground, it would be impossible.”
Numérique: la revanche des jeunes (Digital: The Revenge of the Youth)
Panel: Simon Coutu (Reporter at VICE Québec), Crystelle Crépeau (Director of Digital Writing at Radio-Canada), Valérie Duhaime (Content Director for Digital Platforms at Urbania/Balle Courbe)
Coutu and Duhaime, two former Radio-Canada employees talked with Crépeau––former editor-in-chief of Chatelaine magazine––about the place of youths in journalism.
According to Duhaime, 77 per cent of the Urbania audience is between the age of 18 and 34––what the panel determined to be the age of millennials.
She explained that Crépeau’s project for Radio-Canada, Prochaine génération (Next Generation), is intended for that age group; the project is still in its first phase.
Crépeau wants to re-think a new way to inform millennials on a different platform, and she wants to talk about subjects that concern their generation.
Coutu believes that it’s one of VICE’s strengths: reports on underreported subjects. “I think we were the only organization that went to Anticosti [island] and actually spoke to residents,” he pointed out.
The three panelists discussed the progress made in addressing millennials over the last few years. When asked why it took so long for Radio-Canada to start thinking of building a new platform for that generation, Crépeau explained that “it’s hard to steer a liner.”
To that issue Coutu, the VICE Québec reporter, stated that the reason may be that “there’s not enough young bosses.”
However, Radio-Canada has made progress, said Crépeau. For example, the corporation launched Corde sensible (Strike a Cord), a new web-series hosted by Marie-Eve Tremblay, in which Tremblay addresses uncomfortable subjects (for example, looking for an apartment on the Internet with an Arabic name).
Duhaime added that, “Those who refuse to go forward are on the wrong side of progress.”
Dans les coulisses des Panama Papers (Behind the Scenes of the Panama Papers)
Interview with Emilia Diaz-Struck (Head Researcher at International Consortium of Investigative Journalists) by Gillian Findlay (Host of Fifth Estate on CBC)
In an hour-long interview, Diaz-Struck, a professor of journalism at the Central University of Venezuela, discussed her responsibilities as a head researcher of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), as well as the challenges of handling the enormity of the Panama Papers—2.6 terabytes of documents to be exact.
The documents were leaked by an anonymous source to two journalists working for Süddeutsche Zeitung, a German newspaper. Realising that they wouldn’t be able to sort through all the documents by themselves, the journalists contacted the ICIJ to collaborate.
“We needed to make sense of that mess,” Diaz-Struck told Gillian and the audience. The ICIJ now has 11.5 million documents, including more than 4,800,000 emails. The lone-wolf idea of investigative journalism today has become the wolfpack—involving 370 journalists from around the world.
“We want journalists that want to collaborate,” said Diaz-Struck. There are six ICIJ journalists in Canada, including Radio-Canada’s Frederic Zalac and former Journal de Montréal investigative reporter Andrew McIntosh.
The first question Diaz-Struck asks journalists is if they are willing to collaborate. “We want journalists that will put their egos aside,” she said.
Diaz-Struck told the audience that she did not contact Ken Silverstein––the investigative reporter who revealed the alleged wrongdoings of Mossack Fonseca, the Panamanian law firm at the center of the Panama Papers.
In a VICE magazine article, 18 months before the ICIJ officially released the information, Silverstein explained that he knew that Süddeutsche Zeitung had received the documents, but he did not know “it was a leak of this size.”
Major newspapers such as The New York Times and The Washington Post were not a part of the ICIJ before the release of the Panama Papers, but have since joined. Diaz-Struck, though, was quick to remind Findlay, host of CBC’s Fifth Estate, that “the key is the journalists” and not necessarily the organization.
Diaz-Struck also revealed that the ICIJ had relevant documents about the widespread corruption in FIFA and the Petrobras corruption scandal in Brazil, but held back the release of any documents until they were prepared to release the Panama Papers.
Since the leaks, the number of journalists has grown to around 500, said Diaz-Struck. The journalists are not all paid by the ICIJ, but the organization has 12 staff members. The ICIJ is not funded by any government.
Protection des sources: les techniques de l’heure pour sécuriser ses communications (Protecting sources: latest techniques to protect your conversations)
Panel: Tristan Péloquin (La Presse), Nael Shiab (Data Journalist at L’Actualité)
In a short talk, Péloquin and Shiab reviewed the various devices used to secure communications between journalists and sources.
Péloquin has noticed more and more journalists using encryption techniques today. For Shiab, the turning-point was the Snowden leaks. He explained that he became more conscious of the importance of protecting his communication after learning of the methods Snowden used to speak to journalist Glenn Greenwald.
One of those devices is the app Signal, which Snowden himself recommends.
The app allows journalists and sources to communicate using encrypted text messaging. Users can also call themselves securely. Two words appear on the screen of the users before the call. The person who receives a call reads the first name for the caller who answers by reading the second.
The journalists also suggested using Tor Browser which enables users to have a different IP address associated to their browsing. Usually, the user’s IP address will be the one of the Wi-Fi address he is connected to.
Finally, the panelists discussed the use of PGP (“Pretty Good Privacy”) keys, a safe technology to share documents.
Users own a public and private PGP key. The public key can be known by anyone. Some journalists will write their PGP key in their Twitter bio, for example, in case an individual wants to share confidential documents.
The shared documents can only be accessed by using the private PGP key known only by the journalist.
“The ‘press’ on our jacket used to be a protection—now it’s a target,” said Mohamed Fahmy, during a presentation at Concordia in September. In 2014, the former Al Jazeera English Bureau Chief was held captive for more than 400 days in Egypt’s Scorpion Prison—a victim caught between the crosshairs in a conflict zone.
Fahmy’s sentiments seemed a distant reality confined to journalists who reported from faraway authoritarian states, where democracy runs thin and the press is often stifled.
Or so we thought.
On Oct. 31, Halloween, La Presse broke a horror story of its own: for months, the Montreal Police had been spying on Patrick Lagacé, one of the newspaper’s journalists. With 24 legally obtained search warrants, the police force had the power to monitor Lagacé‘s incoming and outgoing calls and track him using the GPS chip in his iPhone.
Who could have foreseen that in modern Canada today journalists would be transformed from cogs of democracy into targets of surveillance?
On Thursday, Yann Pineau, senior director of news at La Presse, spoke at McGill University, joining other journalists and media law experts as part of a panel discussion on the precarity of a free press under surveillance.
“It shook us to our foundations,” said Pineau. “We’re in journalism because we believe, somehow, there’s right and wrong. We never thought the police would go to this extent.”
For almost nine days after the news first broke, the public clamored while La Presse corresponded with Premier Couillard’s office.
“It took the election of Donald Trump to make the story go out of the news cycle,” said Pineau.
Snowden’s lecture at McGill via video link coincided with the revelations that the SPVM had La Presse Journalist Patrick Lagacé under surveillance.
Today, many view the Montreal police’s actions as not just an overreach by law enforcement, but a severe attack on the role journalists play in a free and democratic society.
“Journalists are able to tell the public the truth about what happens because they have sources that trust them,” said Caroline Locher, director general of the Quebec Federation of Journalists.
Would-be whistleblowers within public institutions will now think twice about speaking out, she added.
From 2006 to 2011, Locher worked for London’s BBC World Service, reporting from countries where press freedom is an illusion.
“I never thought that what we would see here in Quebec would be very close to some of the worst dictatorships,” she said. “It very much resembles a police state.”
Fabien Gélinas, a professor at McGill’s Faculty of Law, said the hard part for legislators comes now. “Quebec alone cannot alter the law without coordinating with Ottawa,” he said, as federal parliament holds the power over changing criminal and telecommunication legislation.
“I’m very troubled by what we’ve seen, but it’s hard to make judgment without all the facts,” added Gélinas.
Until the surveillance warrants are unsealed, those facts will remain unknown. Each warrant application comes with an affidavit, said Mark Bantey, a media law lawyer, that provides a judge with enough information to decide whether to grant the warrant.
La Presse has since undertaken legal proceedings to retrieve the supporting affidavit, which Bantey believes the newspaper will eventually receive. “But it might be highly redacted,” he said. “La Presse can challenge the validity of the affidavit and the validity of the warrant.”
The question will then become whether the police in Lagacé’s case passed the basic test for obtaining search warrants, said Bantey.
“In other words, was the objective of the police really to investigate a crime or was it to discover who was leaking information to the police?” he asked. “If it was the latter, I don’t think the warrant will survive the scrutiny of the courts.”
The Montreal Police have claimed they tracked Lagacé for legitimate reasons: to probe crime within the police force itself.
Recently, the media has sought to cast blame on errant justices of the peace, representing them as civil servants without training or stature.
“The fact is that Quebec’s justices of the peace—unlike their peers in other provinces—are full members of the Quebec judiciary,” said Gélinas. “First they have a law degree, they require ten years standing at the bar, and they are appointed for life.”
According to La Presse, Josée De Carufel, the judge who granted the 24 search warrants on Lagacé, was appointed a justice of the peace after more than two decades as a lawyer.
Many critics now say the problem lies with the law itself, and that it must change to give greater protection to journalists and their sources. “Some countries are leaders in this matter,” said Locher. “In Belgium, for example, it is completely illegal to spy on a journalist unless there is an imminent terrorist threat or somebody’s life is directly in danger.
“We’re eons away from that.”
In 2010, Canada’s Supreme Court warned giving such widespread immunity to “[an] ill-defined group of writers and speakers, and whatever sources they undertake to protect, would blow a giant hole in law enforcement.”
But until journalists have some kind of accreditation system, said Gélinas, regardless of the laws in place, a person can only be identified as a journalist, case by case; after which their sources can be protected by the law.
While La Presse’s recent revelations have unsettled legal experts and galvanized the media, many in the broader public believe journalists are pushing for greater privileges for themselves.
“The argument needs to be twisted on its head,” said Locher. “It’s not about protecting journalists and giving them special privilege, it’s about the public getting information they’re allowed to have, about what’s happening in their public institutions.”
But Gélinas believes changes may be difficult to balance within the current legal framework. “The importance of confidentiality of sources is already recognized by the Supreme Court as fundamental,” he said. “But everywhere—as in Canada—it must be balanced with the other public interests at stake, including the public’s interest in law enforcement.”
Whether the Supreme Court has fairly balanced a person’s right to information with their right to law enforcement remains an interesting question, added Gélinas.
With a keyboard and an Internet connection today, any citizen can be a “journalist,” and defining who and what constitutes a journalist becomes problematic. At its core, freedom of expression means that journalists are free from government control, and that any willing citizen can share and partake in public discourse.
“The protection attaching to freedom of speech is not limited to traditional media,” said Bantey. “It is engaged by everyone who exercises their freedom of speech on the matters of public interest—including bloggers and tweeters.”
Through the magic of politics, Justin Trudeau and his Dream Team entered Rideau Hall as regular elites and left as Prime Minister and his Cabinet.
Through the magic of media, we got to watch their transformation—live on the internet on Nov. 4. What a magical few hours it was, with news organizations streaming the exact same video feed to my face, with varying degrees of competence.
CTV bravely provided no analysis or commentary for the entire two-and-a-half hours.
Global News tried to embarrass itself, and largely succeeded. They provided insight into which ministers were captains of their swim teams, a self-admitted “fact that means absolutely nothing.” They wrongly assumed that Marc Garneau was a fighter pilot because he was an astronaut. They didn’t respond to my tweet calling them out for it. And, of course, they had a panel of men talking about gender parity.
— Carl Bindman (@carlbindman) November 4, 2015
globalnews</a> called <a href="https://twitter.com/MarcGarneau">MarcGarneau a fighter jet pilot?? How to do research at Global: watch "The Right Stuff"; extrapolate.
There may be confusion: for the record, I was never a fighter pilot (although I flew a plane). I was however an astronaut (flew 3 times).— Marc Garneau (@MarcGarneau) September 9, 2012
CBC earned those tax dollars and courted #millennials by voxing the populi and talking about selfies. They also provided substantial analysis and helpful commentary, but did the condescending live-translation thing—with a consistent high-pitched feedback noise to add injury to insult. Given that young people can hear high-pitched noises that adults can’t, it was a baffling decision sure to alienate the audience that the CBC needs most.
Radio-Canada was great, minus the live-translation in the other direction. They explained what was going on, they discussed why certain people were chosen, they broke down the roles of the ministries—and they ignored the crowd. Whether that was because they assumed their audience didn’t want to hear what some kid from Calgary had to say about making eye contact with Justin Trudeau, or because they themselves figured that when somebody takes the time to watch an important political event they want to hear informed voices about the actual fucking political event, I’m grateful.
Buzzfeed Canada didn’t stream the stream, but tweeted pictures of ministers as cast members in a “Bad Blood” knockoff called, uh, “Sunny Ways.” Somebody needs to be fired.
And, well, because I couldn’t watch every stream, and only remembered that they existed once the swearing-in was over, HuffPo streamed the thing and National Post posted stuff. Also Vice. Also [Canadian news agency that I forgot].
As for the content of the stream; it started late. Rideau Hall was announced as “the home of the people of Canada,” just before the announcement that this ceremony was taking place on Algonquin land. Justin Trudeau reminded us who politics is for when his first oath was to the Queen, his second oath was to the Queen, and his third oath was to the Prime Minister’s Office. Aboriginal children made appearances, cementing Trudeau’s commitment to having Aboriginal children make appearances.
The procession was led in by a young 12-year-old Cree, drumming and singing. During the swearing-in ceremony, two Inuit throat singers—10 and 11—giggled through a performance, undermining the ostentatious pretense of the event. Which was great. The procession was led out by a group of Métis children dancing to the fiddle while the room of elites clapped and laughed. Which was great.
Justin Trudeau was sworn-in as prime minister. Justin Trudeau was sworn in as minister of youth. Justin Trudeau’s cabinet were sworn in as ministers. Stephane Dion was sworn in as minister of forgetting pens. Thirty times, this happened: be announced, stand, swear oath, shake Trudeau’s hand, shake governor general’s hand (and by extension the Queen’s), sign paper, be cheered, sit, clap for next person.
Also Nadveep Bains—the rebranded minister of what used to be Industry but is now Innovation, Science and Economic Development—received the Great Seal of Canada to keep safe for the governor general (and by extension, the Queen). It looks like a giant gold butt plug.
Then more kids came in and they chanté’d the hymne national in a random mélange of anglais and French, then they took a picture together and then went outside and then Trudeau answered questions and then the streams ended.
And so did this blog post.
Understanding the Middle East and all its woes is a daunting, near impossible task.
Robert Fisk, a longstanding Middle East correspondent for The Independent, spoke at the St. James United Church Saturday evening to a large group of eager listeners in an attempt to impart his first-hand knowledge about the tumultuous region.
Fisk has been reporting on the Middle East for nearly 40 years. He has written numerous books, won countless awards for his work and has been recognized seven times as international journalist of the year by the British Press Awards. Notable past interviewees include Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Osama bin Laden.
The event was organized by Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East and Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights.
On Syrian Refugees and Canada’s Response
“You know, 20 to 30 years ago, in the Middle East, Canada’s reputation was absolutely, singularly identifiable,” Fisk said. “Canada helped those who suffered.”
The rhetoric around the refugee crisis is one of fear, rather than compassion, Fisk mused.
“I’ve noticed over the past week and a half here, the way in which the narrative of the refugees has become constantly smeared with the words terror, terrorists and security,” he said.
“First of all, you must be frightened of those in your society who go to Syria and join ISIS, and then you must be frightened a few weeks later that they’re all coming back,” he continued. “I find this preposterous, but it’s something that’s worked its way into Canadian political dogma.”
Fear is an influential factor affecting Canada’s views of the refugee crisis. A recent poll taken by Ipsos revealed 71 per cent of voters believe “We can’t compromise Canada’s security, and individual Syrian refugees should go through proper screening to make sure they aren’t terrorists even if this slows down their admission to Canada.”
Underestimating the power of ISIS’s ideology would be imprudent, but the fact that we feel the need to closely examine every single incoming Syrian because we believe they might be Islamic State infiltrators demonstrates how seriously the rhetoric of fear has influenced our minds. Syrians are fleeing Syria because they too fear ISIS.
“One of the thing’s I’ve noticed is … politicians in this country seem to have fallen behind in their understanding of suffering,” Fisk said, comparing Canadian politicians to Canadian soldiers, who, in his view, are more compassionate towards refugees.
Nonetheless, a study conducted in July by ORB International shows that 21 per cent of Syrians believe the Islamic State has had a positive influence on Syria, in one way or another.
According to Fisk, it is a matter of restoring honour to our country. He admits that he doesn’t have an answer to the crisis, but believes that new institutions are needed to help hundreds of thousands of people escape from war.
Conservative measures would see 10,000 refugees settled by September 2016, Liberal measures would see 25,000 settled by January 2016, and the NDP would aim for 10,000 by the end of the year and 46,000 by 2019.
The West and The Middle East
According to Fisk, the story of the Middle East—which is a Western-centric name for west Asia—began with the division of land between France and England by means of the Sykes-Picot Agreement after World War I.
“Instead of giving freedom, dignity, independence [and] real lands, to anyone in the Middle East, we took them over,” he said. “Our forces went in, our military went in.”
He read the beginning of a letter that was written to the government of Iraq when England occupied Baghdad in the first world war. In the letter, the British declared themselves not as conquerors, but as liberators who were going to free the people from “generations of Tyranny.”
“So we’re always freeing the Arabs,” he said. “But we didn’t give them freedom from anything. We gave them more tyrants.”
Fisk called the countries in the Middle East our “experimental states.”
“We claimed we were giving a mandate to nurture them to understand how to run a country, and then we handed it over to dictators of our own; dictators who we paid, and armed to keep their people down,” he explained.
While covering the Arab Spring, Fisk noticed posters demanding democracy. The people in these countries viewed Western democracies as the forces that “paid and armed the dictators who repressed them.”
“What they asked for on the posters was dignity and justice,” he said. “This we did not intend to give them. Nor did we do so.”
ISIS As A Cold, Calculating Weapon
“What is this creature, ISIS?” Fisk asked.
The terror group uses more camera angles to film their heinous executions than Hollywood uses to film their motion pictures. They destroy great works of art with systematic precision, and show no emotion when slowly decapitating their victims.
“It took me a long time before I realized that ISIS is a weapon. It is a weapon with as little emotion and feeling as a [missile], or a [battleship]. It has no feelings. It has no emotions. It is empty, because it is a weapon,” he said.
“And the question, of course, is whose weapon is it?”
Without proof to back up his claims, Fisk said he believes ISIS is “an Arabian weapon from the gulf,” and he suspects that “the hand on that weapon is probably somewhere in Saudi Arabia or Qatar, or both.”
Stating that Saudi Arabia and ISIS dangerously “share precisely the same beliefs,” he claimed that funding for the Islamic State was coming from Qatar and Saudi Arabia. He didn’t specify that it was the governments of theses countries that were doing the funding, but that the money was nonetheless coming from those Gulf States, and possibly others.
Following a closed meeting between local journalists and Montreal police, a press conference was held Monday morning addressing police conduct towards reporters covering student demonstrations.
“This meeting is the start of an ongoing conversation we plan to hold with the police,” said Tom Henheffer, Executive Director of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE).
“We also know there are expected to be many more protests this fall, and in order to hold all parties accountable,” he continued. “[We] are exploring options to create some human rights monitors with other organizations, who will be on the ground to hold both police and journalists accountable.”
Henheffer moderated the closed meeting between police spokesperson, Ian Lafreniere. The press conference followed at Place Des Arts on Monday.
The initiative began last spring, when anti-austerity demonstrations in the city started heating up.
Matt D’Amours, a reporter for both 99Media and The Link, helped draw the journalists and police together to commence constructive dialogue on the issue.
“Obviously, as journalists, we were all over these events, writing, photographing, live streaming—you name it. And we began to realize that independents, students and alternative journalists were having a really rough time out there,” D’Amours said.
“Being denied access to film, being intimidated and threatened, and in some cases, being outright assaulted by police,” he continued.
To counter police tactics, D’Amours said they compiled testimonials and video evidence to present to Montreal police in a meeting.
Although police mistreatment of journalists is not a new phenomenon, the issue became apparent during the 2012 student protests, according to Henheffer.
Numerous and questionable instances of police mistreating journalists are not specific to alternative and student journalists, but to mainstream reporters as well, he said.
An example he gave is when a police officer assaulted Jacques Nadeau, a photographer from Le Devoir, in 2012.
During the closed meeting, police agreed to recognize independent media, and to write up a set of “ground rules” for journalists to follow. The rules will then be passed down to their officers so that they will be aware of how to identify journalists.
“The identification will not be based on certification, but it will be based on the behaviour,” Henheffer said. “So people who are acting like professional journalists will be treated like professional journalists.”
One of the main issues with independent media coverage of protests is when reporters get too involved in demonstrations, he said.“What it comes down to is behaving professionally and being an independent, neutral observer of the protest, as opposed to taking part in the protests.”
The meeting marked the beginning of a dialogue that aims to address the complicated relationship between police and journalists. Reporters who were present for the exchange expressed their optimism looking forward.
“I don’t think the SPVM is deliberately targeting journalists, I think that this is all a matter of misunderstanding that can be, with open minds, communication and a mutual respect, that can be vastly improved,” Henheffer said.
“We hope that that will happen in the next round of protests, but once again, that will remain to be seen.”