OTTAWA â€” The Supreme Court of Canada has sent the appeal of a convicted Surrey murderer back to the British Columbia Court of Appeal for reconsideration in light of a court case last year concerning the stateâ€™s use of â€œMr. Bigâ€ stings.
Gary Donald Johnston, 55, is serving a life sentence for the 1998 stabbing murder of Vic Fraser in Bridgeview.
The defence and Crown presented arguments last year at the B.C. Court of Appeal in Vancouver, after Johnston appealed his case. The case then went on to the higher court, which sent the matter back to B.C. on Thursday in light of a 2014 case called Regina v. Hart.
In November 2011 Johnston was sentenced to the mandatory life sentence, and to serve 15 years in prison before he can apply for parole, after Justice Robert Crawford found him guilty of second-degree murder in the stabbing of Fraser, 42, on March 10, 1998.
A trial in B.C. Supreme Court in New Westminster heard in 2011 that Johnston stabbed Fraser, a New Westminster crane operator, nine times, breaking off knife blades in his neck before bludgeoning him with a flowerpot, booting him in the ribs and making off with his wallet.
The court heard Fraser had interrupted Johnston while he was burglarizing the little yellow bungalow in Bridgeview that Fraser’s sister, Jeanie Fraser, owned. Fraser died of massive blood loss.
Jeanie Fraser used to play crib with Johnston, drive him to the beer store, and lend him videos, coffee and smokes. She even had him over on Christmas Day, 1997, never suspecting he would someday be accused of victimizing her family.
After Fraser’s death, Johnston made his way to Regina where, eight-and-a-half months later, he stabbed caretaker Wayne Griffith multiple times in the neck, wrapped his body in plastic and dumped it in a desolate field.
Originally charged with second-degree murder in that case, Johnston pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to 10 years, plus time served. He did seven.
Undercover RCMP officers posing as an organized crime gang approached Johnston when he was on parole and roughly 60 scenarios were enacted in Ontario and Quebec, over six months, to win his trust. The 2011 trial heard that during their last scenario Johnston told the undercover cops that he’d stabbed Fraser about 30 times in the throat, and also offered to carry out killings for the bogus crime syndicate. He was arrested immediately after that.
Meanwhile, in Regina v. Hart, the high court considered whether new common law rule of evidence should be developed to determine the eligibility of Mr. Big confessions. Under such stings, police seek to recruit their crime suspect into a fictitious criminal organization in an attempt to get them to confess to the crime theyâ€™re really investigating. This type of sting has been used in Canada more than 350 times.
The Supreme Court of Canada has not banned the use of Mr. Big stings but has expressed serious concerns about the tactic.
â€œMr. Big operations are a creative and sometimes useful law enforcement technique,â€ the high court noted in Regina v. Hart, â€œbut the courts must carefully police their boundaries lest they stray from being useful strategies into ploys that allow the state to manipulate and destroy the lives of people who are presumed to be innocent.â€
Jeanie Fraser is not happy with the Supreme Court of Canadaâ€™s decision to send the case back to B.C. for further consideration.
â€œThis is pathetic, if you ask me,â€ she told the Now on Thursday.