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Inside the Interrogation Room

The Reid Technique

Coerced confessions have been found to be unconstitutional. Nonetheless, cops all over Canada are using techniques which, while falling short of pulling out a person's fingernails still could be considered torture. -- Sheila Steele

The material on this page is based in part on the Disclosure program Inside the Interrogation Room and partly on injusticebusters' personal experience and first person accounts from others who have been subjected to undue pressure by the police. The program Disclosure was cancelled after only 3 years -- hardly long enough for such an ambitious and necessary show to find its footing. At the bottom of this page, we have taken excerpts from the Supreme Court Decision R. v. Oickle.

Q: Why would anyone confess to a crime they didn't commit?
A: Could be they were submitted to an interrogation which violates their charter rights.

January 28, 2003: Gillian Findlay hosted a segment of CBC's Disclosure about the Reid Technique for extracting confessions which is taught at the Canadian Police Academy and widely practiced by police officers all over Canada and the United States. If the confession is false, well, that's "just the price of doing business." The Reid Technique has been banned in the United Kingdom. The Disclosure show points out that the Canadian Supreme Court has approved the Reid technique, noting that in some cases it is difficult to "get confessions."

We wonder just how many people in jail on drug convictions are there because of this method, or, because the method was used on a friend or associate to get his or her name. While the Disclosure program concentrates on false confessions of murder and sex crimes, drug charges provided the police with the public sympathy they needed for the high courts to approve these methods. Many of our charter rights have been compromised during the "war on drugs." Trust between police and the community was eroded, perhaps irrevocably as police realized they could extend the technique to other crimes the public found abhorrent.

Maybe you thought those interrogation scenes from the movies were the fanciful work of a screenwriter, based partly on fact, but mostly on the imagination of the writer, or the imagination the writer has bestowed upon the interrogating cop. When we hear of sleep deprivation, continual questioning interrupted with periods of leaving the subject alone in a brightly lit room to be observed through a one-way mirror, we don't necessarily think the police in question are following instructions from a course at police academy. They are. The Reid Technique gets results. Sometimes the results are right. Often, they are wrong. Nonetheless, the Reid manual is considered "the Bible of interrogations" with "the nine commandments for making people talk."

Allowing the police to use lies and ruses serves to isolate a person on the way to criminalization. Family and friends often distance themselves from the person accused of a horrible crime. Of course that phone call everyone believes we are entitled to once we are in custody? It often is allowed too late to be helpful. And the right to see a lawyer? If you do not have a lawyer on retainer (and how many of us do?) you will wait hours, days and week-ends or else see an overworked legal aid lawyer who already thinks you are probably guilty because so many clients are. Kenneth Patten Very often defence lawyers, including legal aid and private criminal lawyers accept the Crown's version because they regularly lunch with these fellows and ladies. Have I been watching too many episodes of Law and Order? No. On that show the District Attorneys are usually scrupulous in avoiding getting too chummy with defence lawyers. In Saskatoon, the place that I know best, such socializing is common place.

Three Regina men spent two and a half months in jail and would probably have been convicted had not the real murderer, with a DNA match to the crime scene, been apprehended. Once the DNA match to Kenneth Patten (above) was made, police had no choice but to let their other susupects go.

Douglas Firemoon and Joel Labadie

One of the falsely accused men, Joel Labadie, had come forward to the police to let them know he had seen the victim a few hours before her death. After being subjected to the Reid Technique, he "confessed" to being at the scene of the crime. Finally exonerated, he has become agorophobic, fearful to go outside, certain that many people believe he is a sex murderer. "It is like they steal your spirit, or something." As the Disclosure show points out, "For someone who has confessed, there can never be innocence."

Douglas Firemoon

The Regina men who were charged with first degree murder were so intimidated and brainwashed that one of them, Douglas Firemoon (right), even assisted with a "re-enactment" of the crime. He got all the salient details wrong. He claimed his friend used a knife when in fact the victim was strangled. He has been told that Joel confessed. Joel has been told that he might have blacked out and has been tricked into agreeing he could have committed the vicious crime while in a comotose state.

Nonetheless Joel Labadie, Doug Firemoon and a young offender would have gone to trial for first degree murder based on this "evidence" had not the real murderer been apprehended.

The issue of false confessions recently made international headlines in the Central Park Jogger Case.

Five New York men were recently cleared of a brutal rape that they falsely confessed to in 1989 when they were just boys. An over-zealous crusading DA convicted the boys.

"If you got the wrong person in the room, and you use those methods, it's going to be a punishing experience," says Richard Ofshe, a U.S. expert witness on false confessions.

"If you're innocent and you allow the process to go forward, you are going to go in for a ride the likes of which you never wanted to volunteer for," said Ofshe.

Mike St. John

An Edmonton man, Mike St. John (right) falsely confessed to aggravated assault on his infant son after hours of denying he had anything to do with the so-called crime. He says he does not know how the confession happened.

Part of the Reid Technique instructs that a suspect must not be allowed to say he didn't do it. "The more often he says he didn't do it, the harder it will be to get a confession out of him."

In all the police interrogations shown on Disclosure, we see the accused denying involvement and being interrupted by the interrogator. The next step is to suggest an alternative scenario and get the suspect to agree to its reasonableness. A person is then implicated without realizing it has happened.

This is what happened to Dwight Grant, a Manitoba math teacher who falsely "confessed" to molesting a student. In fact he confessed to nothing. He was surprised and humiliated to find his name and the charge published in the newspaper the next day. Needless to say, his life can never be the same.

James LeCraw was charged in Operation Snowball. After further investigation charges against him were withdrawn but he never recovered from the stigma. He lost his job, His friends, His reputation.

James LeCraw killed himself.

Victims of the Reid Technique are very much like victims of sexual assault. They are ashamed, both for the public humiliation associated with the crime they are charged with and for having been tricked and coerced into saying things they did not want to say. The Manitoba judge in the Grant case said he had been subjected to a brainwashing exercise.

Lawyer Tim Brown

Tim Brown (right), lawyer for one of the Regina men points out that anyone could have seen that his client was fragile and not a good candidate for this method. A teacher of the method from the police academy acknowledges that while they teach the method, no part of the course teaches who would or would not be appropriate candidates.

The method is used by the Winnipeg Police. Monique Turenne was subjected to it for several hours and she refused to confess. Nonethtless, the police produced a statement which was "signed" by her. The only problem with this "confession" is that the signature was forged and that the entire nine page statement was created by Officer Loren Schinkel (who is also head of the police union).

Chief Ewatski had stood by his cop. The manufactured confession is being used in extradition proceedings to have Monique Turenne taken to Florida where she has been accused, by a man who probably committed the murder, of having been his accomplice and the mastermind. The Winnipeg and Florida police have conspired with mischievous relatives to tie up the estate of Monique Turenne's deceased husband so that she and her two children have had to live in poverty for the last seven years. They also have a "signed" statement from her ex-husband which he claimed he did not make.

A variation of the Reid Technique was used by Sup't Brian Dueck when he was a corporal to get statements from three FAS children alleging adults had sexually assaulted them. These videotaped statements, as well as videotaped interrogations of the suspects, formed the basis of the high-profile "Scandal of the Century" and the smearing of inocent people resulted in the $10M lawsuit which is scheduled for pre-trial in May. His interrogation of Anita Klassen follows Reid from step one to step nine.

Indexed as: R. v. Oickle

Her Majesty The Queen, appellant; v. Richard Floyd Oickle, respondent, and The Attorney General for Ontario and the Criminal Lawyers' Association (Ontario), interveners. [2000]
2 S.C.R. 3 [2000] S.C.J. No. 38 2000 SCC 38 File No.: 26535. Supreme Court of Canada 1999: November 2 / 2000: September 29.
Present: L'Heureux-Dubé, McLachlin, Iacobucci, Major, Bastarache, Binnie and Arbour JJ. ON APPEAL FROM THE COURT OF APPEAL FOR NOVA SCOTIA

  • The confessions rule focuses not just on reliability but also on voluntariness broadly defined.
  • The common law confessions rule can offer protections beyond those guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
  • While it may be appropriate in certain cases to interpret one in light of the other, it would be a mistake to assume one subsumes the other entirely. In defining the confessions rule it is important to keep in mind its twin goals of protecting the rights of the accused without unduly limiting society's need to investigate and solve crimes.
  • The application of the confessions rule is of necessity contextual. Hard and fast rules simply cannot account for the variety of circumstances that vitiate the voluntariness of a confession.
  • When reviewing a confession, a trial judge should therefore consider all the relevant factors. The judge should strive to understand the circumstances surrounding the confession and ask if it gives rise to a reasonable doubt as to the confession's voluntariness, taking into account all the aspects of the rule.
  • The relevant factors include threats or promises, oppression, the operating mind requirement and police trickery.
  • While obviously imminent threats of torture will render a confession inadmissible, most cases will not be so clear. The use of veiled threats, for instance, requires close examination.
  • The police may often offer some kind of inducement to the suspect to obtain a confession. This becomes improper only when the inducements, whether standing alone or in combination with other factors, are strong enough to raise a reasonable doubt about the voluntariness of the confession.
  • An important consideration in all cases is to look for a quid pro quo offer by interrogators, regardless of whether it comes in the form of a threat or a promise.
  • Oppressive conditions and circumstances clearly also have the potential to produce an involuntary confession. In assessing oppression, courts should consider whether a suspect was deprived of food, clothing, water, sleep, or medical attention; was denied access to counsel; was confronted with fabricated evidence; or was questioned aggressively for a prolonged period of time.
  • The operating mind doctrine only requires that the accused knows what he is saying and that it may be used to his detriment.
  • Like oppression, the operating mind doctrine should not be understood as a discrete inquiry completely divorced from the rest of the confessions rule.
  • The operating mind doctrine is just one application of the general rule that involuntary confessions are inadmissible.
  • Lastly, the police use of trickery to obtain a confession must also be considered in determining whether a confession is voluntary or not.
  • This doctrine is a distinct inquiry. While it is still related to voluntariness, its more specific objective is maintaining the integrity of the criminal justice system.
  • There may be situations in which police trickery, though neither violating the right to silence nor undermining voluntariness per se, is so appalling as to shock the community.
  • In such cases, the confessions should be excluded.
    In sum, because of the criminal justice system's overriding concern not to convict the innocent, a confession will not be admissible if it is made under circumstances that raise a reasonable doubt as to voluntariness. Voluntariness is the touchstone of the confessions rule and a useful term to describe the various rationales underlying the rule.
  • If the police interrogators subject the suspect to utterly intolerable conditions, or if they offer inducements strong enough to produce an unreliable confession, the trial judge should exclude it.
  • Between these two extremes, oppressive conditions and inducements can operate together to exclude confessions.
  • If the trial judge properly considers all the relevant circumstances, then a finding regarding voluntariness is essentially a factual one, and should only be overturned for some palpable and overriding error which affected the trial judge's assessment of the facts.