When Mounties pose as mobsters

The Mr. Big tactic has a 95% success rate in jailing criminals, but critics want it banned. 

Driving the news: This Canadian policing tactic, which involves creating fake criminal groups—like a gang—to trick real criminals into confessing to crimes they’ve committed, is being challenged in courts. Opponents also want it outlawed, per The New York Times

  • The tactic, invented by the RCMP, has been used to solve over 350 cold cases in Canada since 2008. Of resulting prosecutions, 95% have ended in convictions.
  • The target (usually a murder suspect) is often enticed to engage in criminal acts by the fake gang. Ultimately, the goal is to coerce a confession for previous crimes.

In 2014, the Supreme Court ruled the technique can be unreliable and manipulative: targets are unaware of their right to remain silent or speak to a lawyer. They’re also compensated for performing “favours” for the fake groups. Still, it’s often used as a last-resort option. 

  • Some lawyers say the tactic is a breeding ground for false confessions. A number of people convicted through Mr. Big have been exonerated after suing law enforcement. 

Bottom line: The effectiveness of the tactic makes it difficult to advocate against it, Michele Ruyters, a criminal law professor, told The New York Times. Beyond Canada, countries like Australia, New Zealand, and the Netherlands have also adopted the Mr. Big technique.—SB