The chief of the Gatineau police invoked the #MeToo movement on Friday to help explain why his force arrested a news reporter on allegations he threatened and harassed a woman when he tried to get her side of a potentially damaging story.
Antoine Trépanier, a reporter for Radio-Canada’s station in Gatineau, Que., was working on a story on Monday alleging that Yvonne Dubé, the head of the local chapter of Big Brothers Big Sisters, did not inform her employer of her past of practicing law without a permit.
Over two days, Mr. Trépanier tried to reach Ms. Dubé twice by phone, sent her one e-mail and she called him back once and spoke to him for about 20 minutes, according to Radio-Canada’s Gatineau director Yvan Cloutier. He reviewed the communications and said they contained no threats or harassing language. Radio-Canada declined to share full recordings or e-mails publicly.
The Gatineau police said the woman later reported to a police station to complain that she feared for her safety after the reporter, she said, threatened her and communicated with her repeatedly. Mr. Trépanier was arrested on Tuesday evening and released on a promise to appear in court and to avoid contact with Ms. Dubé. Prosecutors will now decide what charges might be laid.
“We take care to protect the rights of victims, including the right to be believed,” Gatineau police Chief Mario Harel said. “In the context we’re working in recently, with all the movements of women making complaints, we don’t judge the past of a woman, her work … the duty of a police officer is to believe her, take her complaint, document her complaint, and later if we find elements that show she needs to be challenged, we will do it.”
The case raises troubling questions about media freedom in a province where police have been recently criticized for spying on reporters and where an inquiry found police need training to understand freedom of the press, according to Stéphane Giroux, head of Quebec’s federation of professional journalists. “Being able to call the police to stop a journalist from asking questions is outrageous,” Mr. Giroux said.
“It’s puzzling how they were able to simple arrest this gentlemen on a complaint without even investigating. What this reporter did is Journalism 101.”
Mr. Cloutier said it was peculiar that police decided to arrest Mr. Trépanier without talking to the station or the reporter. Chief Harel said the police acted quickly to protect the victim and his officers couldn’t question the suspect without putting him under arrest and informing him of his right to remain silent. It wasn’t clear why they didn’t try to question him afterward.
Ms. Dubé didn’t comment Friday. A public-relations representative who answered an e-mail to Ms. Dubé said she would hold a news conference on Monday.
Radio-Canada offered an account on Friday along with unconditional support for Mr. Trépanier. “We have complete confidence in our reporter. His journalistic process was excellent and we support him 100 per cent,” Mr. Cloutier said. “There is no foundation to this, there were no threats or harassment.”
Mr. Trépanier had spent several days gathering court documents and reached out to Ms. Dubé’s former and current colleagues as he documented Ms. Dubé’s past as a trained but unlicensed lawyer.
Mr. Cloutier said the reporter telephoned Ms. Dubé on Monday and left a message. She returned his call and the two spoke for 20 minutes. Ms. Dubé denied the allegation and called it a private matter. The conversation was cordial and Ms. Dubé agreed to meet Mr. Trépanier for an on-camera interview later that day, Mr. Cloutier said. When she didn’t show up, Mr. Trépanier called her cell phone and left a message.
On Tuesday, Mr. Trépanier sent Ms. Dubé one e-mail renewing the interview request, Mr. Cloutier said. “The e-mail was two lines and essentially offered her the chance to give her version of the facts,” Mr. Cloutier said.
Mr. Cloutier said Mr. Trépanier told Ms. Dubé that the story would be published in 36 hours whether or not she answered. “It wasn’t a threat, it was a useful piece of information letting her know how much time she had,” he said.
At 9 p.m., Mr. Trépanier got the call from the Gatineau police saying he should come to the station to avoid being arrested at home.