Posts Tagged ‘Policing’s new visibility’

An Introduction:

‘Agent Provocateur’ what does this mean exactly?  No, not the lingerie brand.  Obviously it relates, somehow, to police deviance.  This is a relatively obscure term used to describe a certain type of crime. An agent provocateur is created when an undercover agent has moved from a passive involvement in crime to an active involvement. This means that such an individual might (and as often is the case) not be a police officer.  The individual could be any number of things, from a police officer working undercover, to an informant who is paid or blackmailed, to a member of The Canadian Security Intelligence Agency (CSIS) — which is not a policing agency, and is not in fact required to enforce Canadian law.

Typically, an agent provocateur is a police officer that encourages others to commit crime in order for fellow police officers to arrest said guilty parties.  These encouragements can vary depending on circumstance. They could be crimes of themselves.  And the encouragements enacted by the police officer universally stray in to that legal gray area known as entrapment – whether the act of encouraging itself is a crime or not.

A little context is, perhaps, in order.

Grant Bristow and Operation Governor:

When we speak of agents provocateur, it is important to note that agents provocateur are not a new phenomenon in Canadian legal history.

Historically, we also have the case of Grant Bristow, a former CSIS agent who worked with the Canadian chapter of the Aryan Nations.  Unfortunately, the only comprehensive resource on Grant Bristow comes from Wikipedia.  Although we do have fellow blogger, Ezra Levant‘s commentary on the matter, as well as Bristow’s interview with The Walrus to draw on. Less user-friendly is a SIRC report written in 1994 investigating CSIS and Bristow’s role in the Heritage Front Affair.

Regardless, in this case the Wiki article seems to be quite succinct on the subject of Grant Bristow according to my subsequent research.
Grant Bristow
Grant Bristow was an informant employed by CSIS who worked closely with the eventual leader of the Canadian Aryan Nations front, Wolfgang Droege in the ’80s. He has spoken to the fact that his ties with Droege allowed him to prevent various horrific acts of violence, including bombings and riots. However, further investigation has revealed that his placement as Droege’s right hand man may have been what allowed the organization to continue its operations when Droege assumed leadership. The purpose of Bristow’s infiltration was to identify the financial supporters of the Canadian Chapter of Aryan Nations. However, it was upon the impending arrest of Droege (on unrelated charges of assault) and Bristow’s subsequent departure of Aryan Nations in March 1994, that the Front disbanded.  Bristow was forced to step down, because if he had not, he would have become the de facto leader of the chapter.

In 1994, Toronto Sun reporter Bill Dunphy released an expose on Operation Governor; sadly this news article is not available on the newspaper’s website.  Without a copy, what can be said about it is this: the article negatively exposed CSIS’s role in the Heritage Front/Operation Governor Affair and ousted Grant Bristow as the agent in question.

In September 2004, Bristow sat down with the Walrus and narrated his own perspective of the operation.

Bob Lambert:

Robert Lambert

Dr. Robert Lambert is currently the co-director of the European Muslim Research Centre at the University of Exeter. He also lectures at the Centre of the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at the University of St. Andrews. He was a former officer employed by the London Metropolitan Police from 1980-2008. He is the author of Countering Al Qaeda in London: Police and Muslims in Partnerships. He was inducted as a Member to the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in 2008, for his work as a police officer.

Under the false identity “Bob Robinson,” Lambert infiltrated various environmental, animal rights, and anti-racist activist groups. I bring this case up not as a discussion of agents provocateur, but to highlight a similar issue found in the Kennedy case below: Lambert instigated an 18 month relationship with a London Greenpeace activist in an attempt to gain credibility in his undercover role. While police chiefs claim that undercover officers are expressly forbidden from engaging in sexual relations with activists, other undercover officers have come forward to say that sex is most definitely used as a tool to gain trust.

Although Lambert has never been accused of being an agent provocateur, he currently is under investigation by the Metropolitan Police in regards to whether or not he was prosecuted under his assumed identity, while undercover.

Robert Lambert


The Montebello Incident involved the Sûreté du Quebec using three undercover officers to infiltrate the anti-Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP) of North America protests. The SPP was an open dialogue between Canada, America, and Mexico with the purpose of enhancing trade, sharing intelligence, cooperation, environmental protection, and economic stability between the three nations. The SPP was meant to exist alongside institutions such as the North American Free Trade Agreement. The SPP was cancelled in August 2009.

In the above video, peaceful demonstrators are protesting the SPP at the North American leaders’ summit in Montebello, Quebec. The above video shows Dave Coles (president of the Communications, Energy and Paper Workers Union) ordering three masked men, who were later revealed as undercover SdQ officers, to leave. In August 2007, the SdQ admitted to its involvement.


To further broaden our look into agents provocateur: the issue of informants is paramount.  Mother Jones offers are clear and frank exploration of the use of informants from the American perspective in its September/October 2011 article “The Informants”.  From the Canadian perspective, we have the work of Mathilde Turcotte and his study of police informants and their handlers in Quebec, in the article “Shifts in Police-Informant Negotiations.”

From the Canadian perspective we have the following: police are required to actively seek out and maintain a network of informants without much leverage.  Typically, informants are gathered through actions such as bribes, blackmail, and “flipping.” “Flipping” is where a criminal is given the opportunity to “work off” his crimes through aiding in police investigations. Blackmail is the threat of legal action before an informant is charged. This could include issues of immigration.  However, in Canada, police have no real control over the reciprocity process.  In order to prevent the abuse of power on part of the police, outside agencies have control over the reciprocity process. This creates a unique situation where the informant could gain leverage over his handler, and make demands in return for cooperation. This also puts the handler in jeopardy during the bargaining process, because he cannot be certain that any promises he makes to an informant will be carried through.

As the informant gains more power in his relationship with his handler, it is often the case that he works outside his orders and without confirmation or approval.  An example provided by Turcotte involves an informant, while wearing a wire, attempting to entrap a contact in a drug deal.  This was outside the scope of the informant’s directions, and completely illegal — any evidence he might have gathered would have been inadmissible in court.  As a civilian agent, he was not aware that his actions constituted entrapment. Fortunately, the contact did not accept the deal; if he had, the ramifications are impossible to predict, although it could be said with certainty that the Police would not have come out of it with high public opinion.

Mother Jones also brings up the issue of wires and undercover operations, in the context of terrorist sting operations.  The concern raised here is that, while technology advances further and has allowed for virtually undetectable recording devices, there are still many incidents of key interactions not being recorded. The law enforcement side of the debate offers the excuse of “technical difficulties,” while the pragmatic approach is simply one of convenience. Certain conversations are not recorded because it is “inconvenient” for the agency that they are on record.

Mark Kennedy:

Mark Kennedy

Mark Kennedy is a former London Metropolitan police officer who worked undercover for seven years, between 2003 and 2010, infiltrating various activist groups across Europe. Most recently, he was involved in the case of 20 activists convicted of conspiracy to commit aggravated trespass at the Ratcliff-on-Soar Power Station. However, this conviction was overturned on Tuesday, July 19, 2011. Three appeal court judges ruled that a grave miscarriage of justice had occurred when audio evidence Kennedy had collected during the activists’ meetings was not disclosed by prosecution. The audio evidence showed Kennedy “was involved in activities which went much further than the authorization he was given, and appeared to show him as an enthusiastic supporter of the proposed occupation of the power station and, arguably, an agent provocateur.”

Kennedy’s involvement in the planned occupation of the Power Station was not passive. He recruited, drove reconnaissance, and offered financial backing. In total, 114 individuals were arrested when they gathered for a meeting in April 2009. When Kennedy’s involvement in the group as an undercover officer was exposed, he faced harsh denouncement from the activists he had infiltrated, who had considered him a close friend and confident. They express feelings of violation and betrayal. Kennedy also faces allegations that he had used sex as a means to gain trust and information while under cover.

In response to this controversy, Kennedy claims that “he was mishandled by senior officers and has been hung out to dry.” Interesting, in that this is a technique of neutralization. In the field of sociology, we would describe this as shifting blame to a higher power – in this case Kennedy’s superiors. Although it is important to qualify that what he has to say is quite logical. And not unexpected when, often, police institutions seek to single out the blame and distance the institution itself from corruption.
Seven inquiries have been launched in regards to Kennedy’s infiltration and the prosecution of the activists.  In total, of the 114 individuals arrested, none have been convicted.


Undercover officers – what do they mean for police and police deviance?  Maurice Punch (2009), in his book Police Corruption: Deviance, accountability, and reform in policing, tells us time and again to look not at the “bad apples,” but the “bad barrels” and “bad orchards” (p. 48), meaning: look at the situation, circumstance, and environment surrounding police that might lead them to corruption. Undercover officers work with, more often than not, criminals; to put it plainly, an officer is expected to infiltrate suspected criminal groups with the intent of gathering evidence (we hope) against these criminals that can be used to bring them to justice.  It is most definitely a dirty job. Getting ‘street cred’ alone usually requires some sort of criminal act.  This common theme of “credibility” or “trust” or “information” is found in the cases of Bristow, Lambert, Kennedy, and Mother Jones’s “The Informants.” In the cases of Kennedy and Lambert, we are further introduced into the idea of sexual encounters as a point of leverage. Morals are pushed and boundaries are reformed. It is natural to assume that somewhere along the line ‘the end justifies the means.’

Gary T. Marx asks us to explore the origins and motives of informants, what they do in radical groups, and factors that enable their transformation into agents provocateur (n.d.).

This leads us first to look our cases of undercover officers as informants, identify some of the motives and concerns that might have lead them to become agents provocateurs.

Bristow’s case is interesting because, as an informant working for CSIS, he is in a different position than the others, who were actual police officers. Bristow had no overarching mandate to uphold the law. And he was tasked with uncovering the financial supporters of Aryan Nations. In his quest to do so he developed a strong relationship with Wolfgang Droege. The maintenance of that relationship required Bristow to act the part of a supporter of the white supremacist cause.  This was an “ends justify the means” situation. Or we could call it a type of Nobel Cause or Dirty Harry corruption.  Maurice Punch describes these types of corruption as specific types of police deviance, however in this case we can apply them to Bristow.  Bristow did not believe in the cause of white supremacy, yet he assumed the guise of such in his undercover role.

The SdQ undercover officer’s roles in the Montebello incident are most definitely Nobel Cause or Dirty Harry corruption. However, as SdQ is a police agency, with a legal mandate to uphold Canada’s law, we have the further issue of Accountability.  Attempting to provoke or incite violence for whatever purpose is illegal. In some cases it could be considered entrapment.  However, it is important to note that Entrapment is only a defense at law; it is not in itself illegal. (Robichaud’s Criminal Defence Legislation blog offers a clearly defined explanation of entrapment if you are so interested.)  The SdQ’s actions at Montebello neatly fall into the definitions of entrapment, although in this case the protesters resisted incitement.  Although no violence occurred, why were the police not held accountable for their actions? If Droege had been prosecuted for his involvement with the Aryan Nations Front, would he have been able to plead entrapment? The role of the agent provocateur is a convoluted one.

In the study of agents provocateur and their roles in undercover operations, the issue of accountability continues to raise its head. There is a certain “legal gray area” that clouds the use of informants and the use of police undercover agents. We can identify some of the motives of agents provocateur, chiefly the types of corruption Maurice Punch labels as Noble Cause, or Dirty Harry corruption.  We cannot, however identify the solution to agents provocateur, because there is so little investigation into the use of them, and there is no transparent accountability structure in place.  CSIS informants hide behind the veil of “National Security.”

Further, what are the ramifications of the agent provocateur? As eluded to above, and as found conclusively in the case of Mark Kennedy, the identification of an agent provocateur can, and will, lead to acquittal.  So what then, makes an individual decide to jeopardize any possible legal action by inciting crime? In Bristow’s case, his purpose was not to arrest Droege – or anyone for that matter. He was tasked with identifying certain individuals and he had no interest in criminal charges.  We see a similar theme in Lambert’s and Kennedy’s situations – they were tasked with gathering information, as well. Is there a distinction between “information gathering” and “nailing the bad guy for a crime”? The literature on police deviance would suggest not.  Mathilde’s and Mother Jones’s articles both allude to the situation of the informant as key to the creation of the agent provocateur.

To look at the cases of Lambert and Kennedy again: I bring them up together because they share similar themes. While Lambert’s case was not one of the agent provocateur (he was an undercover police officer and is currently under speculation for false testimony, not inciting crime), both he and Kennedy were deep undercover agents who operated for years. They created intense interpersonal relationships with the people they were tasked to observe. And they both faced harsh criticism for they duality. They are also both former police officers. Under Peel’s principles that “the police are the public and the public are the police,” we have a concern. The controversy these two individuals are involved in seriously affects the relationship between the public and the police.

Ultimately, the damage the agent provocateur does, to the public and the agency to which he or she belongs, seems to outweigh any benefit. And yet, still these instances occur. What is so very tempting in tempting others into crime?


Marx, G. (n.d.). “Thoughts on a Neglected Category of Social Movement Participant: The Agent Provocateur and the Informant,” American Journal of Sociology 80(2): 402-442.

Punch, Maurice. (2009). Police Corruption: Deviance, accountability, and reform in policing. Portland, Oregon: Willan Publishing.

Turcotte, Mathilde. (2008). Shifts in police-informant negotiations. Global Crime, 9(4), 291-305. doi: 10.1080/17440570802543508.

And all the electronic resources cited here-above.

Today, police armed with pepper spray, batons, and chemical paintball weapons attempted to arrest nonviolent student demonstrators staging an occupation on the grounds of UC Davis. The casual use of force shown here is quite revealing.

In response, students – again, nonviolent – confront the police with calls of ‘shame!’ and begin to push them back, off the UC Davis quad. At one point, they inform the police that they will be given a moment of peace in order to gather their weapons and leave. Eventually, this happens.

This film is an important example of the power of organized civil disobedience and the role of new forms of visibility in policing of police. Note the multitude of cameras.

Commentary from BoingBoing:

At UC Davis today, students inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement sat down on the grass in an open area of the school campus. In the video above, you can see a police officer walk past a group of these young people who are seated quietly on the ground in an act of nonviolent civil disobedience. He walks down the line, and sprays them all with pepper spray, at close range. It’s as if he’s exterminating a row of sleeping bugs with bug spray

In the comment thread following the BoingBoing post, a common – but important – discussion is unfolding. Some participants, while expressing dismay at the police actions here, say that the police should be excused because they are ‘just doing their jobs’, and therefore cannot be blamed. Other participants claim that indeed they can and should be blamed – and held accountable – for these actions, and that ‘duty’ is not an excuse.

To my students: I encourage you to weigh in on this discussion, and to comment on this video more generally. You can post comments to this entry.

Goldsmith’s Article

Posted: November 18, 2011 by jeffield in Policing's New Visibility

As stated by Goldsmith in his 2010 article, Policing’s New Visibility, recent expansion in the availability of video cameras has created an environment in which the public has a much better visibility of the police and their actions, particularly misconduct. Such is the case with Kelowna RCMP Constable Geoff Mantler, who participated in the arrest of Buddy Tavares in January, kicking the man in the head as he was getting on the ground and complying with the police.

The video was captured on a cell phone, and uploaded onto the social video site YouTube, two technologies which Goldsmith believes are radically changing police visibility. Mantler is clearly shown arresting the man at gunpoint, and kicking him in the face while he is on his knees. The following video has nearly 80 000 views on YouTube.

There were many witnesses, and coupled with the video, the Abbotsford police investigation led to him being charged with assault causing bodily harm. The victim, Buddy Tavares, was licensed to carry the long gun for which he was arrested, and was employed by the local golf course to shoot geese. Having suffered brain damage before, the kick to the head, which can be seen in the video to cause bleeding, caused so much damage that Tavares couldn’t continue working. The constable’s trial revolved around whether he was reasonable in delivering so much force, and he has already been accused of several other alleged misuses of force. This case demonstrates the power of video, as the constable has never been charged before because of a lack of evidence; video recording in the hands of the public leads to greater police visibility and accountability.

Policing’s new Visibility

Posted: November 18, 2011 by krobel2001 in Policing's New Visibility

An incident took place inside the RCMP detachment in Lac Biche, Alberta, about 200 kilometres north of Edmontn on September 13, 2001. The officers had just begun their morning shift when the assault occured around 7:15a.m. Andrew Clyburn, 33, had been arrested hours earlier after being involved in a bar fight believed he was being released when he was led down the jail corridor by Constable Desmond Sandboe, a nine year verteran with the RCMP.  A video recorded Contable Sandboe lunging at his victim and smashing his head against a wall and then pummmeling him repeatedly.  The video is silent so it is unknown whether Clyburn said anything to Constable Sandboe before the incident. The video also shows two men standing and watching as the RCMP officer was beating Clyburn.

Constable Sandboe was initally charged with assault causing bodily harm but crown could not prove the injuries were from the constable as Clyburn could have sustained the wound in a bar fight the night before. Constable Sandboe pled guilty to aggravated assault, was suspended without pay and the RCMP was undertaking a code of conduct investigation, as reported by Tony Blais in the Edmonton Sun .

Ian Tomlinson was violently shoved by a police officer during the G20 in London protest on April 2009.
The footage was taken by a business man Christopher La Jaunie with his own compact digital camera. If it was not for this video, Tomlinson’s death would have been swept under the rug. The family would not have known that Ian Tomlinson was stuck by a baton and shoved by a police officer, Simon Harwood.

It was only after the release of this video when Tomlinson’s death was investigated as a criminal inquiry.

The video shot by Chritopher La Jaunie released by the Guardian

Police Beat Teenage Black Girl for Riding Bike
In this video, police beat a teenage black girl for riding her bike on the sidewalk in Millville, PA. Apparently one of the officers, Carlos Drogo, maced himself while trying to take in the girl for riding her bike on the sidewalk and became angry and started punching her. Stevenson was riding her bicycle on the sidewalk of North 2nd Street when Drogo, in his patrol car, pulled alongside her. What happened next is now the subject of a lawsuit in Superior Court in which Stevenson alleges Drogo beat her while she was in custody. The officer denies the charges. Drogo resigned from the police force last fall and Stevenson has since been found guilty of resisting arrest. The city of Millville released two videos recorded on cameras in police cruisers at the scene.

One of Sir Robert Peel’s main principles was that “the police are the public and the public are the police.” This implied that the police’s ability to perform their lawful duties depended on the public approval of their actions. In the past, it was easy for police officers to attain public approval because masses were not able to see the ‘dark’ side of policing. However, as mans need for technology grew; the ‘dark’ side of policing slowly started to come into the light. This phenomenon significantly increased when camera phones, video camera were first introduced. “Citizens have increasingly had access to privately owned video cameras, allowing them to record police in action and, in many instances, share those recordings with wider audiences” ( Andrew John Goldsmith 2010:914). As a result it has become easier and easier for the masses to see police officers engaging in deviance. This phenomenon has undoubtedly increased accountability, however. The police have found a way around this ‘problem.’ For example, when an officer is seen on video using excessive force, the police argue that the video captured does not show the entire picture. They are keen to point out that the police are there to “protect and serve, not seek and destroy.” I agree that the police are the upholders of society, however. I feel some officers knowingly break laws because they think they are above the law. Some argue that there will always be ‘bad apples’ in policing. However, I feel this premise if fundamentally wrong. History has shown that police subculture ‘breeds’ deviance.

Oscar Grant was an African-American who was fatally shot by a police officer named Johannes Mehserle in Oakland, California. Mehserle was a member of the Bay Area Rapid Transit police department (BART). Grant was shot by the officer while he was on his hands and knees. The officer claimed that it was a mistake and he did not mean to shoot Grant. The officer argued that he mistook his gun for a Taser. A video of the incident surfaced the next day; it showed a man who was on his knees getting wrestled to the ground by two officers. While Grant was on his knees one of the officers, Mehserle, shot him in the back. Mehserle had argued that he was going to Taser Grant because he was resisting. However, the video showed that there was no reason for the officer to deploy his Taser. It was because of this video that Mehserle was charged with murder. As a result Mehserle was forced to resign for his position with the department. When the charges finally went through he was charged with involuntary manslaughter and received two years minus a day. If it was not for the video Officer Mehserle would have been charged because it would have been his word aganist someone else’s.

Goldsmith, A. J. (2010). Policing’s new visibilty. British Journal of Criminology, 50, 914-934.