In the Kingdom of the Mounties, a thorough cleanup is essential
By Daniel Laprès
The author is a freelance writer and a member of the CanadianDemocratic Network.
In the report which he submitted this week to the House of Commons, Justice Dennis O'Connor does not merely show how the RCMP failed miserably in the case of Maher Arar: he also calls for increased surveillance of the force's operations involving national security.
But other RCMP practices - notably in criminal cases – require closer examination by the national media and federal legislators because they are a patent threat to the credibility and integrity of our judicial system. The Mounties have become adept at a highly dubious type of police operation in which the only objective - when substantive proof fails to appear or to be conclusive - is to menace suspects into "confessing" that they have committed a violent crime. This method, charmingly referred to in the force as "Operation Mr. Big", is certainly effective and convincing. In most cases juries deliver a guilty verdict after watching a video of the accused "confessing" to their deeds.
In the mind of the person who has made such a "confession", however, the people hearing it were not police officers recognizable as such but RCMP double agents pretending to be gangster bosses and making it clear - after the targeted individual was forced to do something illegal - that unless he "cooperates" and admits that he has really committed the offence of which he is suspected, they will "take care" of him the way gangsters deal with anyone they cannot trust.
This method has led to the conviction of innocent persons. In 1993, for example, Kyle Unger and Timothy Houlahan received life sentences in Manitoba for a sordid case of rape and murder after having "confessed" to RCMP agents who, they assumed, were drug dealers. But in 2004 DNA analysis showed they were innocent beyond any possible doubt. This was very good news for Kyle Unger. For Timothy Houlahan, however, there was a huge problem: he had killed himself in 1994.
The Mounties' "Mr. Big" operation was also instrumental in the meeting out of life sentences to two young men in the United States. Sebastian Burns and Atif Rafay also "confessed" – to pretend-gangsters played by RCMP agents acting on behalf of police forces south of the border - that they had murdered Mr. Rafay's family. Substantive and circumstantial evidence showed the accused were innocent, but a screening of the "confession" videos convinced the jury otherwise at the trial held in 1994. There is a website outlining the details of this "Mr. Big" operation, which was quite typical of other instances where the RCMP employed similar methods: www.rafayburnsappeal.com . But be warned: should you decide to view this (bilingual) site, make sure you are sitting down. What is revealed there is simply overwhelming; it is clear that Burns and Rafay truly feared their lives were forfeited if they did not "confess" to the pseudo-gangsters who were none other than RCMP agents. Furthermore, the two agents in question went so far as to search the cells of the accused in the Seattle penitentiary while their trial was under way. In the very middle of the trial, these two star witnesses had access to the accused's correspondence and personal documents, including confidential papers from their defence attorneys. The two Mounties were obviously shaken up when, by pure chance, their dirty tricks became public knowledge; but the episode shows how certain elements within the RCMP believe they can get away with what is, at best, cheating - when it isn't flagrantly illegal.
These facts are far from unique: there is a dossier of similar RCMP operations. We can thus seriously ask whether the law well served in Canada, given that the federal police force allows itself to apply such profoundly coercive methods - tactics which extort "confessions" at any price and which also grossly violate the values of human rights, integrity, and transparency in legal proceedings of which Canada so often boasts. Let us hope, then, that the present controversy around the Arar case will finally make us aware that something is very rotten in the kingdom of the Mounties, and that a thorough cleanup is essential - at least if we sincerely want Canadian justice to do everything possible to avoid damning the innocent.