Mr. Big Should Be Given the Death Penalty (Globe and Mail)

Globe and Mail Editorial attacking Mr. Big (July 4, 2014)

Globe editorial

The Mr. Big investigative technique deserves death

The Globe and Mail

Some of Canada’s police officers have the narrative talents of screenwriters and directors, but their creativity has been horrendously misapplied to induce suspects to make false confessions to serious crimes, using a trick known as “Mr. Big.”

There is at least some hope that Mr. Big himself – or rather, itself – will be stopped. The Supreme Court of Canada recently heard an appeal from the Court of Appeal of Newfoundland and Labrador, in the case of Nelson Hart, and it will hear another such appeal, from Alberta, in the case of Dax Mack. And last week, an Ontario Superior Court judge excluded the evidence on which the Crown was relying in a similar case – a scenario complete with a fake but convincingly bloodstained corpse.

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The people targeted for the Mr. Big gambit are those that police believe to be guilty of a serious crime, such as homicide. Police have suspicions, but they lack evidence.

The Mr. Big technique serves to fill the gap, by inducing a confession. Police invent an imaginary criminal organization, led by a kingpin – Mr. Big. Over weeks and months, the fake gang draws the suspect in, first a friend, then as an errand-runner and eventually perhaps for some petty crime. The suspect-victim is pathetically grateful for his job and becomes devoted to the graciously condescending kingpin.

In due course, the supposed crime boss demands the ultimate proof of loyalty. This may come after Mr. Big and his undercover police henchmen have themselves staged what looks like a murder. To prove his loyalty, the suspect must confess that he too has committed a crime, perhaps even killed a certain person – the crime that the police are actually trying to solve. At first he denies it, but he is threatened with expulsion or worse. He may legitimately fear for his safety or his life. Eventually, he confesses to murder – and is then arrested. Thanks to his “confession,” he is often convicted.

The trapping of vulnerable people is scandalous. These confessions are extracted under fear, duress and entrapment, and have a high likelihood of being false. This may explain why the Mr. Big technique is not allowed in the United States.

It should be similarly banned in Canada. In the words of the Charter, it’s a practice that “brings the administration of justice into disrepute.” The Supreme Court should sentence Mr. Big to death.

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Man acquitted in neighbour’s 1974 killing after judge throws out evidence from ‘Mr. Big’ sting

After 40 years, two murder cases, one failed undercover operation and now an acquittal thanks to Charter violations, Durham Region’s oldest murder case remains unresolved

By:Wendy GillisNews reporter, Published on Mon Jul 28 2014

After nearly 40 years, two murder trials, one elaborate undercover operation and now an acquittal, Durham Regional Police’s oldest murder case remains unsolved.

Dealing the final blow to the first-degree murder case, Justice Bruce Glass acquitted Alan Smith of the 1974 slaying of Beverly Smith in an Oshawa courtroom Monday.

Glass effectively undid the case last month, when he threw out all evidence gathered in an intricate, year-long police sting known as a “Mr. Big” operation.

The undercover investigation — which convinced Smith he was enmeshed in a murderous crime ring, and culminated with the dumping of a fake corpse off a cliff — had violated Smith’s Charter rights and was an abuse of process, Glass ruled in June.

Without the evidence gathered during the sting, namely two widely varying murder confessions, Crown Attorney Frederick Stephens conceded there was little prospect of conviction.

“There is no reasonable alternative but to discontinue the prosecution,” he told court Monday.


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About ken

I am a former Toronto teacher and writer now living in Vancouver. I work with Dr. Rubin 'Hurricane' Carter, with whom I published Eye of the Hurricane: My path from Darkness to Freedom (Chicago review Press, 2011), as Director of Media Relations and as an advocate for wrongly convicted prisoners. Other publication credits include Songs of Aging Children (Arsenal Pulp Press, 1992) a book of short stories about troubled youth, and Taking Steam, a play co-authored with the late Brian Shein, staged at New York's Jewish Repertory Theatre and Toronto in 1983. Life Without (Quattro Books, 2012) is a novella about a New York cab driver wrongly convicted of killing his pregnant wife. Gary Geddes (Lt. Governor's Award for Literary Excellence) described it as "one of the most brilliant and harrowing short novels I've read since I went on a John Hawkes binge."

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