Christopher McPherson, senior prosecutor with the Ministry of Justice, Province of British Columbia, is responsible for challenging high-profile homicide cases. He has prosecuted over 30 homicide cases. Elected a Bencher for 2016, Christopher is a member of the Discipline Committee and Equity and Diversity Advisory Committee. Christopher has served as a director of the BC Crown Counsel Association, and is a member of the International Association of Prosecutors and International Society for the Reform of Criminal Law. His teaching and lecturing experience includes coach of the Western Canadian Criminal Moot Competition and UBC Burns Moot Competition, instructor of CLEBC's Winning Advocacy, lecturer with the National Judicial Institute, ongoing training with the Ministry of Justice and various law enforcement agencies, and presenter at the International Association of Prosecutors Conference. When more conventional techniques fail to solve a serious crime, almost always a homicide, law enforcement agencies in Canada (and nearly nowhere else) have, on occasion, resorted to using Mr. Big operations. This undercover investigative technique is used to obtain confessions from individuals who have already committed a crime but where there is insufficient evidence to support a charge. Can such an operation become abusive or have the potential to produce an unreliable confession? Christopher McPherson, senior prosecutor with the Ministry of Justice, Province of British Columbia, will explain the features of the Mr. Big Operation focusing on the concerns that are associated with it. Come learn how the Canadian justice system aims to balance the ongoing tension between society's interest in gathering evidence to solve serious crimes and the protection of the rights of the accused persons and the integrity of the justice system as a whole.
February 24, 2016 at 7:00pm
Vancouver Public Library - Alma VanDusen Room - (350 W. Georgia St., Vancouver, B.C.)
Is Mr. Big an investigative technique we can stand behind? ARPICO investigates. What is society to do when a heinous crime, typically a homicide, against a member of the community goes cold? Exhaustive investigations may lead to a good idea of who the killer is, but sometimes there is just not enough evidence to make an arrest that would lead to a charge. BC crime investigators and prosecutors, about twenty years ago, have come up with an answer: the Mr. Big Operation. On the evening of February 24, Christopher McPherson, senior prosecutor with the BC Ministry of Justice, responsible for countless high-profile criminal cases, addressed an attentive audience in the Alma VanDusen Room of the Vancouver Public Library. The event was hosted by ARPICO, (Society of Italian Researchers and Professional in Western Canada, www.arpico.ca). McPherson explained how Mr. Big Operations originated in BC and are now utilized throughout Canada to solve cold murder cases. He clarified that this technique should not be confused with entrapment, which happens when police undercover operators unfairly induce a high risk target to commit, or try to commit, a new crime. Rather Mr. Big Operations target individuals who are suspected of having already committed a very serious crime. McPherson enthralled the audience with the specifics of how a Mr. Big Operation works – how a fictitious crime organization is created to eventually ensnare the suspected criminal into voluntarily confessing his participation in the cold case crime. It was clarified how these operations are complex and expensive; that is, before police would approve such a project, the crime must be extremely serious, the information leading to the suspect solid, and other admissible evidence lacking. Interestingly, it was also pointed out that these operations are also rated a success if a suspect is definitively cleared. Finally and most importantly, it was emphasized that the law has recently changed to ensure as much as possible that the target’s admissions are reliable and were not obtained in a manner that would shock the conscience of the community. Notwithstanding recent changes to the law, the audience had questions about the covert and deceptive nature of the operation and its potential for violating the rights of the accused: without checks and balances, can this deceptive technique take unfair advantage of targets with vulnerabilities – such as limited mental capacity, addiction, poverty, and/or social and emotional isolation? Wouldn’t the target confess to almost anything due to social and financial dependence? How much is enough in the pursuit of justice? As well, since the technique is not used in the USA or other countries, why does Canada seems to have gone all in with Mr. Big? McPherson addressed these concerns, pointing to the new guarantees brought into play by a recent decision of the Supreme Court of Canada. To the question why Canada pretty much stands alone in using this technique, a senior defence lawyer in the audience suggested that in Canada the Charter makes rights against self-incrimination come into play only after a formal engagement with the authorities, such as arrest or charge. In contrast, in other countries such rights have been created to apply to any contact with police, formal or covert. It is not difficult to understand why Mr. Big Operations would attract their share of controversy and detractors. The risks are real: a number of trials over the years have made that apparent. However, the hard fact remains that this technique sometimes remains the last hope in resolving cold murder cases, and will therefore continue to be sanctioned by our society for use in the law enforcement arsenal. Perhaps remaining vigilant and mindful of the inherent risks associated with a Mr. Big Operation could be the best approach to mitigate those risks. The audience and Mr. McPherson continued the dialogue well after the Q & A into the refreshments segment. ARPICO would like to thank Christopher McPherson for his presentation, and all ARPICO volunteers for helping make the evening possible. For those of you who were unable to attend, don’t miss the next ARPICO event.