On Watch

Reality Check

Posted: May 7, 2013 1:40 PM ET Last Updated: May 7, 2013 1:40 PM ET

There is a clever ad on TV right now that exploits our seeming preoccupation with crime as a source of entertainment.

The ad begins with a high speed chase, the kind made familiar by countless TV shows and movies. A van load of criminals is fleeing several police cars. The criminals are still wearing their masks and have a large bag of money on the floor between them as the van screams through narrow city streets. The punch line comes when the van -- and the ad -- screeches to a halt because the getaway driver ignored the advice of his friendly neighbourhood car parts salesman and didn't buy a new fanbelt.

Anyone who has spent any time in the courtrooms in this province know that true crime is no where near as dramatic as that commercial or the shows it appears in. In fact, most crime is stupid, petty and mundane. The same adjectives could be used to describe many of the people who commit these crimes.

Jermaine Carvery is an exception.

His crimes would be right at home in a TV show or movie.

Beginning in Toronto in 1997, Carvery engineered precisely-timed, high-profile crimes. He and his accomplices wore masks and carried guns. They held people hostage. They used stolen vehicles to make their getaways. And they scored big: $150,000 in jewelry from a Costco robbery, $100,000 in jewelry and merchandise from a second Costco hold-up, $500,000 from Cartier's, a high-end Toronto jewelry store. Carvery wasn't at the Cartier robbery; he engineered it from inside prison. He also used a toy gun to rob a "Toys R Us".

As Justice Kevin Coady said in sentencing Carvery to an additonal 25 years in prison for some of his Nova Scotia crimes: "I get the impression that he views himself as a modern day Robin Hood without the 'giving to the poor' component."

Sounds like a story tailor-made for the Hollywood treatment.

Allow me to present a different perspective.

"It's difficult to overstate it. My very basic sense of security has been taken away from me."

The man saying those words was in court for Carvery's sentencing. He sat by himself, away from the gaggle of reporters and small cluster of Carvery's supporters.

Afterwards, he worked up the courage to come speak to the reporters outside of court. He didn't want his name used or his face shown.

He had just arrived to start his shift at the Halifax Costco on July 4, 2004. "I was about to take the first sip out of my coffee," he said. "And there was a gun held to my temple."

The man had just run into Jermaine Carvery and two accomplices. They were wearing masks and carrying guns.

He explained to reporters what happened that day. "We were then escorted to another part of the building," he said. "We saw our friends and coworkers tied up and lined up like cordwood. We were tied up as well. I was also gagged because I had said something."

The ordeal lasted for 2 1/2 hours. As each of 40 employees arrived for work, they were greeted and subdued in the same manner. They were eventually moved to an empty trailer beside the building where they could be more easily contained. Carvery and his crew made off with more than $206,000 in cigarettes which were never recovered.

The man told us it ended because one employee got suspicious. Instead of just going inside the Costco, she went back to her car. "And that's when they made their escape," he told us.

"But had they not seen her go back to her car when she called the police, then the police would have shown up and we would have been in the building with them and it would have been like something out of a hollywood movie."

It's been nearly nine years since that day, and the man is still shaken by the experience.

"When you show up for work and there's a gun held to your head it's the most mundane thing a person goes through, showing up for work," he said. "So I expect any single mundane moment now to erupt into violence. I can't walk down the street go to a movie or do anything without expecting it to erupt into violence."

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About the Author

Blair Rhodes has been a journalist for more than 30 years in Atlantic Canada, covering everything from princes to politicians to prostitutes, and a whole lot of stuff in between. These days, he focusses on stories involving crime and public safety.

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