Mr. Big (police procedure)

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Mr. Big (also known as the Canadian technique) is a covert investigation technique used by undercover police investigators in some parts of Canada and Australia to gather confessions for prosecution. In this method, police officers investigating a crime gain the confidence of the suspect, and then enlist the suspect's help in an escalating series of fictional crimes. Once the suspect has become involved in the fake crimes, the police persuade the suspect to divulge information about the actual crime being investigated.[1][2]

In July 2014 the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that confessions made in Mr. Big operations were "presumptively inadmissible" as evidence in a criminal trial. Within a few months, some charges had been dropped as a result of the ruling.[3]


The technique was developed by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (‘RCMP’) in Vancouver, British Columbia in the early 1990s for cold case homicide investigations.[1] In British Columbia, the technique has been used over 180 times, and, in 80% of the cases, it resulted in either a confession or the elimination of the suspect from suspicion.[4] Since 1990, police in Victoria Australia have also used the technique on over 20 cases, and have successfully obtained murder confessions in several.[5] In Australia, police have applied to the courts, unsuccessfully, to suppress the publication of the details of these tactics.[1] It has also been used in New Zealand.[6]


While the details of the technique vary from case to case, the method is for an undercover police unit to pose as members of a fictitious gang into which the suspect is inducted.[1] The suspect is invited to participate in a series of escalating criminal activities (all of which are faked by the police), including robberies, control of prostitution, and standing guard during gang's activities. In addition, the "gang members" build a personal relationship with the suspect, through drinking together and other social activities. The goal is to win the confidence of the suspect.[2] Eventually, the suspect is told that the police have a renewed interest in the original crime, and that the suspect needs to give the "gang" further details. The suspect is told that, if all knowledge of the crime is revealed to the "gang", the boss (the so-called "Mr. Big") may have the ability to influence the police investigation; but if the suspect is not completely frank with the "gang" about the original crime, the gang may abandon the suspect as a liability.[1]


Defense lawyers and criminal specialists have argued that the method is flawed for several reasons. In particular, they assert that the method may produce unreliable confessions. Len Hartnett, an Australian lawyer for a Lorenzo Fatava, who was convicted in part using a confession obtained from this type of operation, argued that the police officers encourage confessions, "telegraph what they want to hear," and act as an authority figure to the suspect who is in a relatively powerless position.[2] In short, the main concern of defence lawyers is that this procedure may cause innocent people to confess wrongly, and that the "Mr. Big procedure is a fundamentally deceitful exercise.” [7]

Prosecutors have countered that a confession alone would never be considered sufficient evidence to prosecute a criminal in these cases, and that additional evidence would be necessary.[8]

In July 2014 the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that confessions made in Mr Big operations were presumptively inadmissible as evidence in a criminal trial.[9]

Mr. Big Documentary[edit]

Main article: Mr. Big (film)

In 2007, Tiffany Burns directed a documentary entitled Mr. Big that examined this method. The movie includes interviews with targets of the operation, their families (Burns herself is the sister of Sebastian Burns, who was convicted of murder in part due to being caught by a Mr. Big operation), and RCMP videos of various aspects of Mr. Big operations.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Rodrick, Sharon (2007). "Suppresing Evidence of Police Methods - Part One". Melbourne University Law Review (2007/7). 
  2. ^ a b c Munro, Ian (8 September 2004). "True Lies". The Age (Melbourne). Retrieved 4 August 2010. 
  3. ^ "Mr. Big ruling prompts withdrawal of murder charge in Rhonda Wilson case". CBC. CBC News. 24 September 2014. 
  4. ^ Hutchinson, Brian (18 December 2004). "RCMP Turns to "Mr Big" to Nab Criminals: Shootings, Assaults Staged in Elaborate Stings". National Post (Ontario, Canada). 
  5. ^ Munro, Ian (9 September 2004). "Lawyers Warn Against Police Stings". The Age (Melbourne). Retrieved 4 August 2010. 
  6. ^ ""Mr Big" in New Zealand". No Right Turn. 8 Aug 2014. Retrieved 10 Aug 2014. 
  7. ^ Moore, T. E., Copeland, P. & Schuller, R. (2009), "Deceit, betrayal and the search for truth: Legal and psychological perspectives on the 'Mr Big' strategy", Criminal Law Quarterly, 55(3), 348-404. Available in PDF form.
  8. ^ "RCMP's 'Mr. Big' stings challenged". North Shore News. 24 August 2007. Retrieved 8 August 2010. 
  9. ^ R v. Hart 2014 SCC 52 at para 85.
  10. ^ Website for Mr. Big documentary

External links[edit]