Prime Time Crime

(Prime Time Crime exclusive July  5, 2013)

It must be the heat

By Bob Cooper


I remember hot muggy evenings particularly when Welfare night coincided with a full moon.   You could step outside 312 Main and literally feel the craziness in the air.  You knew the Emergency Bell would be ringing every 5 minutes and the Beep Tone would be going all night.  What sparked that memory was the reaction of some people to news that the RCMP had arrested 2 people and foiled a plot to detonate bombs on the lawn of the Legislature when it was packed with people celebrating Canada Day.

The revelation that the devices were the same sort of home-made Pressure-Cooker bombs used at the Boston Marathon grabbed the attention of the international press and ensured that the case received world-wide coverage. 

The initial announcement brought a feeling of shock which quickly gave way to relief and appreciation to the RCMP, The Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), and other law enforcement agencies involved in the probe which had been running since February.  At least among right-thinking people.

Then the cop-haters, conspiracy theorists, and wearers of tin foil hats began coming out of the woodwork accusing the Mounties of ‘entrapment’ and ‘manufacturing’ the whole thing in order to (a) boost their public image, (b) justify their new HQ building in Surrey, (c) make a case for more funding & manpower, take your pick.  Their suspicions were bolstered when the accused turned out to be a pair of white low-lifes from Surrey as opposed to Afghans named Yusuf and Achmed.  The Province even ran an editorial this morning criticizing the RCMP for not laying out the case in detail and suggesting this lack of clarity contributes to public mistrust.

The members of the Province Editorial Board know full well, or ought to, that it’s always been the practice of law enforcement to give a general overview of the case and let the details come out in court in order to protect the accused’s right to a fair trial.  I realize that the news media want to know everything but no one wants a case like this tossed out because of prejudicial pre-trial publicity.

Some critics including reporters described the RCMP as evasive during the news conference which is unfair and I’d like to make some general constructive comment here.  Nervous people often appear shifty when they’re not and lot of Mounties are very uncomfortable dealing with the news media.  This is due in part to an institutionalized fear of ‘saying the wrong thing’ and displeasing the Commissioner.  City cops are generally a little more at ease with it which is not to say we embraced failure at the VPD but an honest miscue was seldom the end of the world and in most cases no one noticed.  There is also a deep seated mistrust of the press particularly in recent years with most members feeling that George Zimmerman has been treated more fairly than they have. 

This discomfort often results in an on-camera persona in which they display a very formal, rigid affect and speak in a stilted jargon barely comprehensible to the average viewer instead of just telling the story in a conversational manner using plain English.  The press are a fact of life and on any major case you’re going to have to deal with them sooner or later.  Imagine you’re telling the story to your neighbor over the back fence and adjust your speech and mannerisms accordingly.  Or, as an old colleague of mine used to recommend, a nice calming double Scotch just before you walk over to the Press Room.  If you can’t get past this, realize it and let your media spokesperson handle it.  That’s what they’re paid for and the RCMP have some very good ones.

A brief word on the allegations of ‘entrapment’.  In order to target someone in this fashion the police have to show a pre-disposition to commit the crime.  This typically involves someone telling the police he has just been approached by someone wanting to have a spouse or business associate murdered or is looking for a deal on pressure cookers which will only be used once.  The police don’t turn some innocent person into a criminal.  They simply take someone who fully intends to commit a crime and allow him to do so under controlled conditions.  Those who believe that the RCMP framed these two to achieve their own ends are the sort that are convinced the U.S. government flew the jets into the World Trade Center on 9-11.   

Some ask why the police took so long to make the arrests and didn’t just charge these two when they made their intentions known.  Firstly, they likely wanted to ensure they identified everyone involved and it takes time to develop a relationship and gain the suspects’ trust.  Secondly, you want to go into court with the strongest possible case because you don’t get a second chance.  The typical defense in any ‘Mr. Big’ operation is “we were only kidding”, “we were just trying to impress Mr. Big and we’d never have gone through with it”.  As all of us know, there are judges and juries that are gullible enough to believe this.  When they actually go out and plant the bombs any doubt as to their intentions is pretty much removed.

I’d remind those who think that launching such a massive operation to snare a couple of petty criminals is somehow unfair, that bombs don’t discriminate.  Whether they’re planted by a trained committed jihadist or some low-functioning loser, when they go off the result is the same.  Have a look at a series of photos taken seconds after the Boston Marathon bombing that are making the rounds of the internet.  I’ve spent a career seeing horrible repulsive sights and a couple of them still grossed me out.  When it comes to acts of terrorism and mass murder I don’t want the police playing by the Marquis of Queensbury rules and I’d like to thank the men and women of the RCMP, CSIS, and all of the other agencies involved for keeping us safe.

Nice work.



Bob Cooper is a retired Vancouver policeman.  He walked a beat in Chinatown and later worked in the Asian Organized Crime Section and the Homicide Squad.



Prime Time Crime

Contributing 2013