Top court cuts 'Mr. Big' sting down to size

Beverly Lynn Smith murdered in 1974.

Beverly Lynn Smith murdered in 1974.

Michele Mandel, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:19 AM ET

TORONTO -- British and American police aren't allowed to use it.

And now the made-in-Canada Mr. Big sting has been cut down to size by a Supreme Court ruling that has sharply curtailed their admissibility in Canadian courts. The country's highest court has now placed the onus on the Crown to prove that the confessions produced in these stings should be admitted because they are truthful, reliable and not an unfair abuse of process by police.

"It's an absolutely fantastic ruling," said lawyer Joanne McLean, who along with Allison Craig recently won the acquittal of Oshawa, Ont.'s Alan Dale Smith after his Mr. Big confessions were thrown out by the court as an abuse of process and a violation of his charter rights.

"What there has been up until now in police conduct is absolute carte blanche. They will do anything they want, to get what they want, which is a confession."

Used more than 350 times in the last two decades, the "Mr. Big" ruse is an undercover sting originally developed by the Mounties in B.C. that uses a cop posing as an underworld kingpin to elicit a confession from a suspected killer in a murder case that has gone cold.

The police "criminals" entice their suspect with booze, trips and gifts, ensnare them into the organization by getting them to witness or participate in staged thefts or even murders -- and then convince them to confess to a serious crime in return for protection or membership.

As elaborate as a Hollywood screenplay, often complete with fake blood or bodies, these operations can take months to weave and cost as much as a few million dollars.

The technique can be very successful -- it was used to finally convict Roy Niemi last year for the brutal 2006 slaying of 20-year-old Alyssa Watson in Orillia, Ont. Lacking evidence to nail him, police concocted a fake criminal organization and after months of befriending him, the fictitious "boss" eventually convinced Niemi to divulge how he strangled Watson -- all while he was secretly recorded in a Toronto hotel suite.

Niemi gave him details only the killer would know and he's now serving life for first-degree murder.

But the Mr. Big sting can also go very, very wrong.


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