Posts Tagged ‘role of police’

To expand my previous definition, 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.

When we speak of agents provocateur (AP), it is important to note that AP’s are not a new phenomenon in Canadian legal history.  Although, generally, the newer cases of Montebello and Toronto G20 come to mind.

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.  Interesting to note is that as I write, this website seems to be no longer available. I will have to look into it.

Irregardless, in this case the Wiki article seems to be quite succinct on the subject of Grant Bristow according to my subsequent research.

Grant Bristow and Operation Governor:
Grant Bristow Undercover 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.


The Montebello Incident involved the Surete 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 along side institutions such as the North American Free Trade Agreement. The SPP was canceled 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 Paperworkers Union) ordering three masked men, who were later revealed as undercover SdQ officers, to leave. In August 2007, the SdQ admitted to its involvement.

Tying into the Study of Police Deviance…:

If we take Grant Bristow’s work with Aryan Nations as a true example of an agent provocateur (it, of course has not been labeled as such by law – which brings about issues of accountability to be discussed below) and the police involvement of the Montebello incident, we have two examples of the use of Agent Provocateurs. 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 at Bristow and the SdQ 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 undercover SdQ 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. Maintaining that relationship required him to act the part of a supporter of the white supremacist cause.  This was an “ends justifies 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.

…and Accountability:

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.  (Robichaud’s Criminal Defense 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?


To further broaden our look into APs: in my own opinion, 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 be on record.


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 AP’s, chiefly the types of corruption Maurice Punch labels as Noble Cause, or Dirty Harry corruption.  We cannot, however identify the solution to APs, because there is so little investigation into the use of APs, and there is no transparent accountability structure in place.  CSIS informants hide behind the veil of “National Security.” Police provocateurs have not been legally identified in contemporary cases involving clear incitement.


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.

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

And all the electronic resources cited here-above.

The Role of Police in Wrongful Convictions in Canada

The wrongful conviction of innocent people has gradually been recognized over the last quarter of a century as a problem for the Canadian criminal justice system. It is extremely difficult to determine the number of wrongful convictions in Canada. One of the major aspects of wrongful convictions is the tunnel vision; it results when there is a narrow focus on a limited range of alternatives. Tunnel vision is insidious and it results in the police officer becoming so confused upon an individual or incident that no other person or incident register’s in the officer’s thoughts.

While conducting an initial Google search on the topic “The Role of Police in Wrongful Convictions in Canada”, a number of interesting cases emerged. One of the result was a news article published by CBC news that highlights some major cases in Canadian history. This article has twelve cases and a brief description for each case and it is fairly recent because it was updated in October/2010.

An interesting case that was found during the preliminary research done on the topic is the case of Donald Marshall Jr case. The late Mr. Marshall was as a young Aboriginal man from Nova Scotia imprisoned 11 years for a murder he did not commit. The Marshall case was the subject of the first public inquiry into a wrongful conviction in Canada. The inquiry first raised awareness about wrongful convictions and it also made important recommendations about how to prevent them in the future.

Another interesting case was found is the case of Tammy Marquardt A young single mother from Ontario who was imprisoned for 13 years for the murder of her two and one half year son on the basis of erroneous forensic pathology expert testimony that the cause of her son’s death was asphyxia.

These two case studies illustrate the two main ways that wrongful convictions are revealed in Canada. Donald Marshall’s murder conviction was overturned after the federal Minister of Justice granted his petition for a new appeal on the basis of fresh evidence and after Marshall had exhausted appeals all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada. Tammy Marquardt’s wrongful conviction was overturned when the Supreme Court of Canada granted her leave to make a late and normally out of time appeal. The Court of Appeal then held that the murder conviction could was a miscarriage of justice in light new forensic pathology evidence that the case of death was not asphyxia but unascertained. A new trial was ordered, but the prosecutor withdrew charges and the trial judge apologized for what happened to Ms. Marquardt and her son. Both Marquardt and Marshall were granted bail pending their new appeal based on fresh evidence.

The police play a critical role in almost all wrongful convictions. In the Donald Marshall Jr. case discussed above, the police virtually framed Donald Marshall, using oppressive tactics against young and unstable witnesses until they were prepared to perjure themselves and falsely testify that they saw Marshall stab Seale. The local police also persisted in their belief that Marshall had to be guilty even after a companion of the real killer came forth shortly after Marshall’s 1971 conviction and told them that Marshall was innocent. Police influence and participate in witness error in two ways: by failing to detect it when a witness first offers it, or by deliberately forcing or encouraging a witness to change his or her testimony. Police failure to detect witness error is often a product of tunnel vision: if the misleading evidence fits police theory or biases, it may not be rigorously examined. All the articles that were found during the preliminary research; none of them had any response from the police in them. Something that was noticeably missing is that there was nothing mentioned about the police apology.

The role of police in wrongful convictions has been a heated debate for many years in Canada. Several high-profile cases have been in the media involving wrongful convictions in our courts. Following these cases, several high-end inquiries have taken place that have looked into the circumstances that produced these wrongful convictions, including police negligence, wrongdoing, and tunnel vision. One of the major aspects of wrongful convictions is tunnel vision; which is when the police focus their investigation towards one individual, and tend to forget about other possible suspects. They focus all their man power into convicting one person of interest while completely forgetting about other possibilities.
A wrongful conviction is exactly how it sounds, someone is wrongfully convicted of a crime that they did not commit, and the actual perpetrator is out there with his/her freedom. There have been many wrongful convictions that have made it to the spotlight, there are probably hundreds of others that still are forgotten. Many of these convictions were during the pre-DNA era, prior to the use of DNA testing. This is a common trend through many of the wrongful convictions that have occurred in Canada’s history. Many people were wrongfully convicted due to misconduct and lack of knowledge by the police.
While conducting an initial Google search on the topic “The Role of Police in Wrongful Convictions in Canada”, a number of interesting cases emerged. Several articles, some up to 90 pages in length, are present, and help showcase some of the reasons behind the wrongful convictions. Some of these articles including “Wrongful Convictions: The Effect of Tunnel Vision and Predisposing Circumstances in the Criminal Justice System” by Bruce MacFarlane give some insight into tunnel vision experienced by the police. Where they focus only on one suspect and work extremely hard to put them behind bars while forgetting about potential others.
Another result was a news article published by CBC news that highlights some major cases in Canadian history. It looks at twelve cases throughout Canada’s history and gives a brief description followed by an outcome. This article is written from the media’s perspective and no comments from the police are noted. Along with the other results this one is fairly recent, only a year old. It helped broaden my search on the topic by focusing on some of the major convictions that were overturned due to them being wrongful. It also gave me a case list of potential exploration on the topic for the future.
An interesting case that was found during the preliminary research done on the topic is the case of Ivan Henry. Ivan Henry was convicted of a number of sexual assaults in the 1980’s in Vancouver, and has spent 27 years in prison because of it. One of the key points resulting in his conviction was the victims identifying him from a photograph of a police line-up. Here is the photograph: Ivan Henry Police Lineup
One can clearly see why the victims chose him, because he is the one in a headlock and appears to be wild, unlike the other suspects who are all police officers with smiles on their faces. Now the question arises why were the police officers allowed to unjustly play games with this man’s future? It is clear that they are not taking their occupation seriously in this manner, and should have been reprimanded for their actions. These types of stories highlight the role of police in wrongful convictions. Some police officers engage in misconduct and have the potential to jeopardize the life’s of innocent citizens.
Another interesting case and the only Wikipedia link in the results was the case of Donald Marshall Jr. Though it was fairly short it provided some insight into the case, and gave another example of the role of police in wrongful convictions. In this case the police had a predetermined notion that Marshall was the killer. Even though the true killer had admitted to the stabbing, he later lied about his role to police. Donald Marshall Jr. was already known to police and therefore the police focused on him and became victims of tunnel vision focusing just on him and not other possible suspects. Unfortunately for Mr. Marshall he was released after serving 11 years of his prison sentence, which was life imprisonment. If it was not for a witness coming forward it is still possible the Mr. Marshall could still be in prison. A majority of the results where articles that were written by University professors, and a couple of media articles but none of them had any response from the police in them. None of the search results yielded a police apology or mentioned any investigation to be completed.