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Coerced confessions

Robbery conviction tossed out on appeal

Tape confessions, court tells police

In what resembles the legal equivalent of shouting into a howling wind, the Ontario Court of Appeal has again implored recalcitrant police to videotape interrogations.

The court threw out a bank robbery conviction based on the fact that the defendant's alleged confession was not videotaped, emphasizing that there is rarely a valid reason for failing to turn on the cameras.

Madam Justice Kathryn Feldman described the confession in Keigo Glen White's case as "suspect," and made it clear that judges have stressed the importance of videotaped confessions until they are blue in the face.

The 3-0 ruling echoed a 2001 decision where the court referred to 16 previous rulings, made by various courts, which had emphasized the value of "the simple expedient" of videotaping statements.

"The police seem to be able to operate every gizmo and gadget that is produced to help find criminals -- but none of them seem to know how to turn on a video camera or tape recorder," defence lawyer Frank Addario said yesterday.

He said Toronto Police holdup squad officers seem especially unwilling to videotape statements -- apparently bargaining on the fact that many trial judges will overlook their inadequate methods and register convictions anyway.

"I think the holdup squad has made a considered choice not to follow the instruction of the court, to roll the dice on persuading judges that nothing untoward happened behind the closed doors of the interrogation room," Mr. Addario said.

"The refusal of the police to let judges see what goes on during interrogations speaks volumes about their willingness to have the courts really know if the suspect spoke voluntarily."

Constable Shehara Valles, a Toronto Police spokeswoman, said yesterday that it is the force's policy to videotape statements whenever possible.

She said while she could not discuss specific cases, circumstances do sometimes prevent the use of cameras.

In its ruling on the White case, the appeal court said it had serious doubts about the purported confession because "police set out twice to interrogate the appellant without using the available recording equipment, and because there is nothing in the evidence on the voir dire which could satisfy the court of the reliability of the account of the officers."

He ultimately served four years of a 10-year prison sentence.

Besides the alleged confession, Crown evidence consisted largely of identifications by bank personnel. Judge Feldman agreed with submissions from lawyers Andras Schreck and Karen Unger that most of the identifications were frail evidence.

Testifying at his trial, Mr. White said that police threatened to charge his wife as an accessory and cause her to lose custody of her children unless he agreed to confess.

His wife was released shortly after he gave his police statement, giving credence to his allegation.

"The police won't change until they lose a really big case because they have ignored what the courts have been telling them to do," Mr. Addario said yesterday.

"I can't think of anyone else who could ignore the courts for 10 years and get away with it," he said.

"It's impudent and contemptuous, and it shows that they're afraid of having judges see what goes on in the interrogation rooms."

Judge Feldman was joined in her ruling by Mr. Justice John Morden and Mr. Justice John Laskin.