Kouri Keenan

Criminology grad Kouri Keenan has misgivings about "Mr. Big" undercover police investigations.

‘Mr. Big’ ruse needs reforming, says crim grad

October 8, 2009

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Kouri Keenan had no opinion either way when he began his master’s thesis on "Mr. Big", an undercover police technique in which officers masquerade as criminals to trick suspects into confessing crimes to a fake mob boss.

"I originally set out just to look at the nature and scope of the technique," says the Fredericton, N.B., SFU criminology student.

But after analyzing 63 Canadian criminal cases involving Mr. Big confessions, Keenan says he now has serious misgivings about the controversial but increasingly common subterfuge, which is admissible in Canada but not the U.S. or U.K.

In Mr. Big stings, police "gangsters" ply their targets with liquor, money and gifts, frighten them with choreographed beatings, kidnappings and murders and extract their confessions using intimidation, psychological manipulation, threats and promises of wealth and protection.

But the confessions "are inherently unreliable because they’re being made to undercover police officers who portray themselves as members of a sophisticated and wealthy criminal syndicate," says Keenan.

In addition, "these role-playing scenarios undermine many of the fundamental principles of justice and exceed professional, ethical and even moral boundaries."

And they are expensive. The RCMP claim Mr. Big operations cost from $100,000 to $300,000, but Keenan found several that exceeded $2 million.

Keenan’s thesis, which he’s adapting into a book, recommends numerous legal reforms to prevent abuses and false confessions within Mr. Big scenarios.

But he says neither the courts nor politicians appear interested in reforming the practice, due to its overwhelming success in snaring legitimate murderers and other felons.

"What’s going to have to happen," he says, "is a wrongful conviction directly attributable to a Mr. Big operation."

And that could come soon, with the case of Kyle Wayne Unger, who spent 14 years in jail after being convicted in the brutal 1990 murder of a Manitoba teen, largely as the result of a Mr. Big confession. Unger was released last March after DNA cast doubt on his guilt and federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson is reviewing his case.

"It’s likely the verdict will be overturned," says Keenan, "which will have serious ramifications for all Mr. Big cases where only a confession led to a guilty conviction."

Keenan hopes to pursue a PhD in criminology at SFU next year.


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Brigitte Sxhepannek

My husband is in the same boat and he is making a deal on Nov 10/09 in New Westminster, BC. His name is Jimmy Clifford Benoit and is being held in Fraser Regional.

Cynthia Roy

Jimmy Clifford Benoit is an innocent man who is being sent to jail for a murder he did not commit.Mr.Big should be an illegal way of gathering confessions because there is a huge credibility issue to the person who is trying to "IMPRESS" the boss that they will most likely try to make themselves sound more tougher than they are and take credit for crimes they didn't commit if it means they will be accepted by the"the boss"

Darlene D.

I was in the New Westminster court today as Jimmy Benoit was sentenced, and he has fully confessed to the murder under his own volition. He is claiming no such set up, and is accepting responsibility.


Of course it is expected his family members say that he is innocent but he is guilty of that murder and confessed himself. Why should it be illegal? Maybe he should have NOT COMMITED MURDER... hmm? and if it was to sound "tough" he wouldnt have apologized to the family and cried his eyes out because of guilt.

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