|Investigators from the Surete du Quebec conduct a search March 15, 2012, in the home of a Le Journal de Montreal reporter. (QMI Agency/CHANTAL POIRIER)
MONTREAL - Sun Media's flagship French newspaper is suing Quebec provincial police for raiding a health reporter's home following his investigative report into unsecured medical files.
Le Journal de Montreal, parent company Quebecor Media and reporter Eric-Yvan Lemay are seeking $425,000 for the "useless and abusive" March 15 raid on Lemay's Montreal-area home.
The raids caused a firestorm in media circles, drawing condemnation from groups including Paris-based Reporters Without Borders.
In a Feb. 9 Le Journal story, Lemay wrote about his foray into four hospitals where he was able to access medical files that were left out in the open.
Le Journal published photographs of some of the files along with a summary of the type of information that was left in full view.
A doctor and one of the hospitals subsequently filed a police complaint.
A judge agreed to issue a search warrant, and officers raided Lemay's home in full view of his wife and children. They seized computer files and some clothing.
Le Journal's suit also mentions an incriminating public statement that provincial police spokesman Guy Lapointe made about Lemay following the outcry over the raid.
Lapointe referred to an unidentified person who "had illegally taken possession of confidential documents containing personal information."
Le Journal has said Lapointe's statement was "false and defamatory."
Lemay was initially charged with theft and trafficking of identifying information but the charges were soon dropped and the seized items returned.
The lawsuit says police illegally subjected Lemay and his family to wiretaps and video surveillance and "seriously violated (Lemay's) right to privacy, right to property and freedom of expression."
Media lawyer Mark Bantey told QMI Agency that police didn't have to raid Lemay's house even though they had a court's permission to do so.
He recalls litigating cases in which police have seized media files while giving the newspaper time to challenge the search warrant.
"We ask the police to place it under seal pending a court's decision," said Bantey, who has argued cases all the way to the Supreme Court.
He says the Lemay case was an "intimidation tactic" by provincial police that won't scare Sun Media or other news organizations.
"I don't think in the long run there's a chilling effect because the media are strong and they're prepared to challenge ... any police authority that takes out a search warrant against them."