Kouri Keenan returns to campus

Kouri Keenan, BA '04, is giving a lecture about undercover police investigations on Monday. (Submitted)

A graduate of St. Thomas University’s class of 2004 will be back on campus on Monday to give the criminology department’s annual endowed chair public lecture.

Kouri Keenan will discuss investigative tactics used by Canadian police and how these tactics can play a role in wrongful convictions.

One tactic Keenan has focused his research on is called the Mr. Big ruse, where police pose as criminals in various scenarios.

The name, Mr. Big, refers to the non-existent crime boss that the suspect is promised to meet or gain favour with as they advance in the false criminal organization. They are expected to prove themselves to their “friends” by admitting or bragging about their past crimes. This sign of trust has sealed the fate of hundreds of Canadian criminals.

“The technique is unique to Canada,” said Keenan, who released a book last year called Mr. Big: Exposing Undercover Investigation in Canada.

“Having a suspect admit their crimes to police and on tape seals their fate. When it’s used as evidence it gets them hook, line and sinker.”

The ploy is considered controversial because some argue it can produce false confessions, something that Keenan says his study is working hard to identify and eliminate.

“It is covered in law and been used successfully in a number of situations, but the general public is unaware of it, both in how it works, its intricacy and its use here in Canada.”

Keenan’s research to perfect this system of covert techniques represents the first time they have been studied intimately in the 20 years they’ve been used.

“The reason other countries don’t use it is because the reality of false confessions and wrongful convictions haunt the system,” Keenan said. “That is what we’re trying to eliminate with close study and systematic research.

“This is the ground work in this field.”

While not directly involved with the undercover missions, Keenan’s study does require some contact with those that execute these dangerous stings. He’s also a consultant for the operations.

“Most of these cases confront suspects, normally of murder, with their criminal past,” he said. “And it’s almost always done when there is no evidence to support a charge [in] cold cases.

“It can raise lots of questions, but I believe it is a legitimate tool that we need and need to study more.”

Currently located in British Columbia, Keenan hopes his lecture at STU will help raise awareness of the Mr. Big technique and prevent wrongful convictions.

He still keeps in touch with STU’s criminology department and looks forward to going back to the old classrooms he once sat in.

“The room that I am giving the lecture in is the exact room at STU where I knew what I wanted to do with my crim degree,” says Keenan. “It will be neat coming right back to where I got started, right where my butt used to sit.

“I owe a lot to STU and to that department.”

Keenan’s lecture will take place Sept. 26 at 7 p.m. in Brian Mulroney Hall room 103.

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