Undercover cop posed as journalist

An undercover cop, posing as a journalist, convinced a prisoner to trust her, promising that anything he told her wouldn’t be used in court. She lied. Now, the CAJ, CBC and RTNDA are challenging the police tactic in court.

The Toronto Star reports:

“In her letter to the double murderer, she suggested she could secure his place in history and the book deal would be sweetened with financial compensation.”

The young journalist that wrote the letter was, in fact, an undercover cop looking to con the conman into revealing his life story. The Star reports:

“It was part of a “new investigative strategy” the Ontario Provincial Police alluded to in a March press release announcing they had laid a first-degree murder charge against Phillip Vince for the 1999 cyanide poisoning of a fellow inmate at Millhaven Penitentiary.”

This tactic of impersonating a journalist will be front-and-centre this fall due to a court challenge by the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and RTNDA Canada, the Association of Electronic Journalists

The 52-year-old prisoner, named Philip Vince, is serving two life sentences for the unrelated murders of a Toronto railway worker and a teenage runaway in 1985. He became eligible for full parole this year, the Star reports.

Police suspect Vince is also responsible for the death of 24-year-old Scott Barnett, who died in 1999 after collapsing in a maximum security prison.

The Star reports that the young undercover officer had multiple meetings with the prisoner.

“Wary at first, Vince peppered the “journalist” with questions. Would she tape the interviews? Yes, but any recordings would only be used for the purposes of writing a book. Who was her publisher? She couldn’t say because he might do an end-run and approach the publisher directly, cutting her out. But the publisher is “excellent,” she assured him.

“Was she subject to “journalistic privilege” and therefore couldn’t be legally compelled to testify in court? Yes, she said, although no such designation exists. How much would he be paid? A lump sum upon publication of the book, not to exceed $20,000.

“They both signed a written agreement outlining these and other terms.”

Kelly Toughill, director of the School of Journalism at University of King’s College in Halifax and a J-Source contributor, told the Star that impersonating a journalist damages the public’s trust of the profession:

“It really undermines the ability of journalists to do the kind of serious, important stories that society needs to thrive, particularly that democracy needs to thrive,” she said. “If every time someone in a marginal position is approached by a reporter thinks ‘I wonder if this is a cop,’ then you’re not going to get stories that led to the arrest of Robert Pickton,” the B.C. pig farmer. Prior to a series of newspaper stories based on interviews with sex workers familiar with the increasing incidence of missing woman, police denied the existence of a serial killer.”