Un­der­cover cop of­fers glimpse into or­ga­nized crime in Canada

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - BOOKS - Re­viewed by Barry Craig

AN An­glo-Ir­ish writer long ago com­pared the law to a cob­web in which the small flies are caught and the great break through. But that’s all Greek to Bob Deasy. For, con­trary to what satirist Jonathan Swift be­lieved, Deasy de­cid­edly proved him wrong as a Cana­dian cop who spun a Machi­avel­lian web of treach­ery and de­ceit to con and en­snare some very big in­sects in mod­ern crime as he mas­quer­aded as one of them. In the riv­et­ing and rogu­ish Be­ing Un­cle Char­lie, Deasy de­scribes how he and team­mates worked deep un­der­cover for many years for the On­tario Pro­vin­cial Po­lice (OPP), pos­ing as equals with ev­ery­one from be­he­moth bik­ers and well-dressed killers to gone-bad busi­ness­men, Ital­ian and Rus­sian mob­sters, psy­chopaths and so­ciopaths, and all the time fak­ing it as bril­liant phoney fel­low-trav­ellers in spinet­in­gling, hor­rific gam­bles of make-be­lieve. Deasy was a cop for 23 years — 15 un­der­cover — and re­tired in 2006 as a de­tec­tive in­spec­tor and in­ves­ti­ga­tory leg­end. His skill and courage were the fly­pa­per that helped snare some ma­jor play­ers in Canada’s un­der­world and se­verely dam­aged their ac­tiv­i­ties many times over. His tale is some­what like that of FBI agent Joseph Pi­s­tone, who in­fil­trated New York or­ga­nized crime in the 1970s and was made fa­mous in the movie Don­nie Brasco star­ring Johnny Depp and Al Pa­cino. And like Don­nie Brasco, Deasy’s story is, in Hol­ly­wood terms, more Maltese Fal­con than Scarface, more about hu­man re­la­tions and be­trayal than blood-lust and body count. Not once in his deal­ings with th­ese peo­ple did Deasy see a gun, al­though it’s clear from his ex­pe­ri­ences he would have been dead in an in­stant if that’s what they had wanted. Un­cle Char­lie is the moniker used to la­bel Deasy and fel­low op­er­a­tives as UCs, un­der­cover cops. They were in­volved in dup­ing a num­ber of dif­fer­ent per­son­al­i­ties, from low-level thugs and wannabes to bril­liant crim­i­nal minds and em­per­ors of or­ga­nized crime. To suc­ceed, th­ese Un­cle Char­lies had to be cun­ning, in­tu­itive, in­ven­tive, orig­i­nal and quick-wit­ted, at­tributes that re­quire a high level of in­tel­li­gence and em­pa­thy. In their work, iso­lated from ev­ery­day polic­ing, they eas­ily be­came mav­er­icks who didn’t break the law, but of­ten came close to the edge. And to let off steam, they sure par­tied. Ac­cord­ing to Deasy, their more con­ven­tional and main­stream brethren, par­tic­u­larly the RCMP and the bean coun­ters in po­lice bu­reau­cracy, viewed them sus­pi­ciously and — to the frus­tra­tion of the UCs — were more in­ter­ested in see­ing pa­per­work sat­is­fied and rules obeyed than crooks ru­ined or cap­tured. It doesn’t take a cop to fig­ure out that ask­ing thugs for a re­ceipt for the cash you’ve just given them in a drug deal is fool­ish and a good way to flirt with death. Another bizarre part of Deasy’s story is about op­er­a­tives in the RCMP with whom he and his kind of­ten worked. He claims the RCMP is a hide-bound in­sti­tu­tion un­suited for un­der­cover. For ex­am­ple, he says, they’d some­times make the mis­take of as­sign­ing un­der­cover jobs to rook­ies fresh out of the RCMP train­ing depot in Regina and, al­though Deasy doesn’t say so, it’s clear such novices would look as out of place un­der­cover as a Moun­tie per­form­ing in a mu­si­cal ride with­out a horse. They didn’t last long. In the end, Deasy sur­vived a long-term dystopia of stress, bore­dom, worry, heartache, lone­li­ness, iso­la­tion from re­al­ity, mar­riage prob­lems and un­end­ing anx­i­ety. All the while he acted in his imag­i­nary role in a de­hu­man­iz­ing un­der­world so­cial or­der that fears and mur­ders its own as much as it ex­ploits its cus­tomers and vic­tims. The nadir of his ex­pe­ri­ences was his as­ton­ish­ing ac­com­plish­ment of be­ing the first UC in his­tory, he claims, to in­fil­trate the lead­er­ship of the Ital­ian Mafia in Canada, only to see the un­der­cover op­er­a­tion forced to shut down a year or so later through no fault of his own. That still both­ers him. Be­ing Un­cle Char­lie is a com­pelling snap­shot of the cat-and-mouse na­ture of un­der­cover polic­ing. Re­tired jour­nal­ist Barry Craig cov­ered or­ga­nized crime and foren­sic sciences.

Be­ing Un­cle Char­lie: A Life Un­der­cover

with Killers, King­pins, Bik­ers and Druglo­rds By Bob Deasy and

Mark Eb­ner 276 pages, Ran­dom House Canada, $30

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