Back on Jan. 28 of this year, this newspaper published an editorial by me (Lee Giles), headlined Let’s outlaw Mr. Big stings.
The article pointed out that the police tactic often subverts the cause of justice by getting poorly educated and unsophisticated people to confess to crimes they haven’t committed.
Not surprisingly, the editorial was controversial.
Letter writer Brian Lowe of Red Deer expressed surprise that “someone as well educated as an Advocate editor can still go through life with such rose-coloured glasses.”
A Red Deer policeman wrote a letter that he opened by stating: “As I sit down to write this letter, I am literally trembling in anger.”
He then went on to note that the “Mr. Big” technique “is not a dirty trick as Giles calls it, but a legitimate investigative tool that has withstood legal challenges up to the Supreme Court of Canada.”
Well, fortunately, the other shoe has since dropped. The truth is coming out about Mr. Big.
Manitoba’s Kyle Unger, 39, was recently exonerated after spending 14 years in prison for a murder he did not commit.
He was proven innocent by DNA evidence after being put behind bars when he fell for a Mr. Big sting.
In case you don’t know what a Mr. Big sting is, it involves having undercover officers pose as organized crime kingpins in order to get suspects to admit to serious misdeeds.
Sometimes “the mark” is induced to confess with promises of a big financial windfall, and in one famous Canadian case, an alcoholic was apparently tricked into saying he had committed a crime, when he hadn’t, after being fed a lot of booze.
As mentioned in the Jan. 28 editorial, Mr. Big stings are not allowed in most democratic countries because politicians and law-enforcement experts recognize they present way too much potential for abuse on the part of the state.
Interestingly, in Unger’s case, Manitoba Justice Minister Dave Chomiak has said the wrongly convicted man isn’t entitled to any compensation for his 14 years behind bars because he “confessed” to the crime.
Isn’t that a load of horse crap?
In Alberta, Shawn Hennessey and Dennis Cheeseman are appealing their murder pleas and their sentences after they were convicted, as a result of a Mr. Big sting, of being accomplices of Mountie killer James Roszko.
Now, no one in his right mind would defend what Roszko did, but surely it’s time to review every Canadian conviction based on evidence obtained during a Mr. Big sting?
If we don’t do that, then we will never know who is guilty and who was simply entrapped by police.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, are you big enough to do the right thing?
Lee Giles is an Advocate editor.