COVER

Handsome rewards for show-and-tell

February 1 1982
COVER

Handsome rewards for show-and-tell

February 1 1982

Handsome rewards for show-and-tell

The $100,000 trust fund established for Clifford Robert Olson’s wife and son in exchange for his grisly cache of information is the most gruesome example of police payoffs in memory. But it is clearly not the first time that police in Canada have paid to make a case. In fact, Toronto criminal lawyer Edward Greenspan thinks the “single best deal in the history of Canada” was negotiated by a 30-year-old retired Satan’s Choice biker named Cecil Kirby. He is representative of a growing clique of criminals with first-hand reason to believe that the business of selling information can be almost as profitable as the crimes themselves.

In November, 1980, Kirby called the RCMP in Toronto with a message that he wanted to chat about organized crime. Since then, the former underworld explosives expert has been granted immunity from prosecution for setting a 1977 blast that killed one man and injured three others in a Toronto Chinese restaurant. Figuring he knew too much to stay on the mob’s payroll, Kirby helped police put away five men last year for plotting three murder contracts. The convictions were obtained after Kirby spent months taping conversations with a concealed body-pack and duping his pals into believing he had already made one “hit”. Said Ontario Attorney General Roy McMurtry about a man directly linked by police to 19 contract killings: “Kirby represented the first real breakthrough in penetrating the conspiracy of silence which shrouds organized crime activities.”

The authorities are grateful. Kirby’s material needs are judiciously attended to by the RCMP, the Ontario Provincial Police and the Metro Toronto Police, signatories along with Ontario Assistant Attorney General Rod McLeod to the controversial immunity agreement. Among Kirby’s perks are free hotel accommodation, a leased car and monthly cheques totalling $675 for expenses and alimony payments. Not only that, he has been promised a new identity and $200,000 for relocation once his usefulness to the police expires.

Apart from financing, police appear to turn a blind eye to his penchant for beating up his former girlfriend. “She’s being terrorized and has already had one nervous breakdown,” says her Toronto attorney, Brian D. Jones. “Kirby is just waiting until things cool down so he can kill her. He’s obsessed with her.”

After a July beating in a Toronto airport hotel room while Kirby’s two around-the-clock bodyguards stood by

in an adjoining room, Jones complained to the Ontario attorney general’s office. Another assault in her apartment last October (“She’d moved. I can only speculate about how he got her unlisted telephone number, address and key to her apartment,” Jones says pointedly) prompted a formal complaint with the RCMP. A letter from Supt. J.D. Lawson coolly informed Jones that a police investigation of the hotel beating “absolves [the bodyguards] of any misconduct whatsoever.”

Another man walking around the Toronto streets is 31-year-old Gary Coutanche. His brief criminal escapades began when he worked as an Air Canada freight shed attendant at Ottawa International Airport in 1973. A few thousand dollars richer for a decision to turn informer—for the cash and, as he later admitted in Ontario Supreme Court, to save his neck—he is living comfortably under new police-supplied identification. His role in an April, 1974, gold heist was to keep an eye on shipments moving through the airport from Northern Ontario mines to the Royal Canadian Mint. His tips eventually netted the gang five gold bars, then worth about $750,000.

By the time the thieves branched into cocaine smuggling, police had arrested Coutanche and offered him immunity

for his role in the robbery if he would serve as a police informer. For his trouble during eight months of service, leading to the 1976-’77 convictions of five men on assorted robbery and drug importing charges, Coutanche was allowed to keep $10,000 out of the gold bar job (only part of his $100,000 promised share). He also kept the money he had made when he fenced goodies he had pilfered from Air Canada cargo, including clothing, liquor and 60 pocket calculators.

Coutanche’s crimes pale in comparison to those of underworld hit manturned-informer Donald Lavoie, 27. Lavoie calmly confessed last April to about 30 murders in testimony at the Montreal murder trial of his “former close friend” François Laenens. Sentenced Jan. 13 to eight years for his role in a kidnap-extortion, Lavoie said he “went over to the other side” because he was “no longer accepted by the underworld.” He also believed that a wellknown gangster wanted him dead. Under police protection and “living in the lap of luxury with his girlfriend,” according to Laenens’ lawye1*, Norbert Losier, Lavoie is set to appear as star witness in other upcoming murder trials. He has been questioned in connection with 75 killings and has shed light on all of them. They included ad-

mitting to the February, 1978, killing of Henri Fernandez for which he and a coconspirator had been acquitted.

“This has to be the most incredible string of luck police in Quebec have ever run into,” one Montreal investigator said about Lavoie and another recent police informant. Argues Losier, who is appealing Laenens’ 25-year sentence for the first-degree murder of 31-year-old police informer Ronald Lavergne, the Crown prosecutors’ attitudes are “appalling.” He says money, apartments and protection from prosecution “simply encourage criminals.”

But what could become the mostcited case of all (one that has already become Canadian jurisprudence) involved B.C. RCMP officers and Vancouver informant Frederick Thomas Ford, 40. He earned $25,000 for his testimony in a 1976 Vancouver heroin conspiracy trial in which twins Douglas and Donald Palmer, 35, were handed life sentences and four other men lesser terms for trafficking heroin. An ex-convict who grew up in Vancouver’s east end, Ford had functioned as a “back-end man” (recruited to hide drug caches) in the heroin ring headed by the Palmer brothers. His testimony—vital to the Crown’s case—had “the ring of truth to it,” wrote B.C. Supreme Court Justice A. B. Macfarlane in his judgment.

Ford had been receiving $1,200 in monthly living expenses during the trial, the privilege of trafficking heroin free of police intervention along with the abandonment of criminal charges of robbery and possession of stolen goods.

Not until after the trial did Ford publicly trumpet that the RCMP had backed out of a deal to pay him $60,000 for his testimony. When the Palmers appealed their conviction in 1977, Ford, in an affidavit filed with the B.C. Court of Appeal, said: “I got up on the stand and made up a bunch of lies only because I didn’t want to go to jail. Also, I was promised a large cash settlement, new ID and transportation to go anywhere I wanted to go. Naturally, I couldn’t turn this down.”

Police confirmed that Ford had asked for $50,000 and that they had upped the offer to $60,000, stressing that they were not making any promises. Despite arguments by the Palmer brothers’ lawyer, Harry Walsh, that such an award would be considered “bribery” if made by the defence counsel, the appeal was denied. A Supreme Court of Canada appeal was also denied with the Dec. 21, 1979, declaration: “It is impossible to believe that the nature of [Ford’s] evidence given at the trial was affected by the payment or promise of money.” -LINDA DIEBEL with Anne Beirne in Montreal, Malcolm Gray in Vancouver, and Mary Janigan and Greg Weston in Ottawa.