Visualizing Interrogative Injustice: Challenging Law Enforcement Narratives of Mr. Big Operations Through Documentary Film
(2016) 5 The Annual Review of Interdisciplinary Justice Research 152
28 Pages Posted: 23 Feb 2016
Date Written: February 22, 2016
Documentary films can play a substantial role in visualizing key issues of legal significance concerning police interrogations and wrongful convictions. This article examines the ways in which the film, Mr. Big: A Documentary (MBAD) makes visible problems related to Mr. Big Operations (MBOs) in Canada. MBOs are undercover operations conducted by law enforcement officials for the purpose of eliciting incriminating information from an individual who they suspect has committed a serious crime such as murder. During these operations, undercover officers use strong financial and social inducements to entice targets to join the organization. In exchange for membership, targets are expected to reveal information about the crime they committed. This is usually contextualized as a demonstration of trust and/or in order for the organization to arrange to have another person admit to the crime. Law enforcement officials will also intimate their willingness to perpetrate violence on those who do not comply with their demands. This leads to targets feeling a sense of being threatened if they do not comply. Through numerous on-screen interviews with those who have expertise or are knowledgeable with respect to MBOs, MBAD attempts to accomplish several objectives. More generally, it stresses that there are dangers attached to MBOs that may lead to targets to falsely confess leading to wrongful convictions. Second, it scrutinizes problems associated with a particular Mr. Big scenario: targeting Atif Rafay and Sebastian Burns led to their convictions. Third, by shining a light on the problematic nature of MBOs and the Rafay-Burns case, MBAD effectively constructs law enforcement officials as questionable actors who knowingly and intentionally adopt these techniques.
Keywords: Documentary film, popular culture, law, law and popular culture, Mr. Big Operations, Burns-Rafay, Atif Rafay, Sebastien Burns
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