Score one for the good guys

Well this was a day of opposites in Canadian news.  This morning the Globe and Mail reported that a man convicted almost 20 years ago in a murder case that was secured thanks to a ‘Mr Big’ operation wants the Supreme Court to re-open his case.  That same court ruled in 2014 that this tactic, under which the police gains a confession by inventing a criminal enterprise and having the suspect confess to an important figure (Mr Big) to prove his bona fides, was unreliable and that these ‘confessions’ should be taken as false.  If this case goes forward many are expecting the floodgates to open.  A useful investigative tool will be removed.

This afternoon by contrast, an Ontario Superior Court judge found Ali Omar Adler guilty of helping to kidnap Canadian journalist Amanda Lindhout back in 2008.  Mr. Ader had been lured back to Canada by the RCMP in 2015 through a ruse that someone wanted to sign a lucrative book deal with the terrorist.  He was arrested upon his arrival. Given what Ms. Lindhout endured at the hands of her captors this is good news indeed.

So what gives?  In one instance a false front is criticised while in another it is used to get a conviction (maybe Mr. Ader should hire the same lawyers as those the 20-year convict is using).  Where is the consistency in all this?  Why is one bad guy getting off while another is going to jail?

These are important questions regarding jurisprudence and how we want our law enforcement and security intelligence agencies to do the tasks we ask them to.  To me the underlying important point is that these organisations deal with nasty characters, be they garden variety criminals, dangerous violent people or terrorists.  Not surprisingly, these characters don’t play by our rules and can be expected to take every advantage they can.  This is street fighting, not Marquess of Queensberry boxing rules.

Some would argue that the State has to set a very high standard and not engage in dirty pool.  These people have never worked in counter terrorism or criminal cases I can assure you.  To understand and interdict a terrorist you have to walk like a terrorist, talk like a terrorist and act like a terrorist.  You have to discover weaknesses and exploit them.  If you take the high road on every occasion you will not get the person you are pursuing and innocent people will die.  I am not trying to be over dramatic here, just realistic.

The same goes for the use of human sources and agents. You don’t catch bad guys by infiltrating their networks with Boy Scouts and Girl Guides.  You have to use people who are convincing to the nefarious characters. And yes, on occasion, those sources and agents may have to break the law in the execution of their duties in order to expose a much larger criminal act before it takes place.  That is how the game works.

I am sure there are many who will take offence to what I am writing here.  The law is the law, to cite Inspector Javert of in Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables (“Right or wrong the law is the law and it must be obeyed to the letter”).  The police or a nation’s spies cannot break it, even for the greater good.  I respect this position even if I don’t agree with it.

As a society we have to decide what powers and what tools to give our protectors.  Are we ok with the use of devious tactics to deal with devious actors?  I know I am – are you?

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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