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VPD weighs impact of Mr. Big ruling

By David P. Ball, 24 hours Vancouver

The Mr. Big technique is unpopular with civil liberties groups.

The Mr. Big technique is unpopular with civil liberties groups. (FILE PHOTO/QMI AGENCY)

Vancouver police and the RCMP say they’re reviewing their tactics after the Supreme Court of Canada dealt a setback Thursday to a scenario known as “Mr. Big” — what Mounties officially call the “Major Crime Technique.”

The ploy involves undercover cops tricking a crime suspect into believing they’re joining a criminal organization, but requiring they confess prior activities to the group’s “boss” in order to gain access.

Canada’s highest court upheld a lower court’s decision that murder suspect Nelson Hart should face a new trial. The Newfoundland man confessed in such a sting operation to killing his two children, but judges ruled the technique poses a risk of a suspect being falsely convicted based on “unreliable” or contradictory evidence, or that the operation could “coerce” an unwilling subject and be an “abuse of process.”

The judges concluded that “any confession made by the accused to the state during the operation should be treated as presumptively inadmissible” unless the Crown can prove its value outweighs the prejudice against a defendant it might cause.

“Put simply, these confessions are not worth the risk they pose,” the judgment states. “It would be unsafe to rest a conviction on this evidence.”

Vancouver police spokesman Const. Brian Montague said the top court’s decision “will affect police departments throughout the country.”

Montague, who previously worked undercover in drug cases — with “stitches and scars to prove it” — said even though “the Mr. Big scenario is something discussed publicly at times, I personally would never discus how tactics are used, why, or when they’re used.”

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association, an intervenor in the case, applauded the ruling in a statement saying it would “ensure the reliability of evidence … and help rein in some of the more abusive aspects of Mr. Big operations.”



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