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Margaret Beare, left, was a criminologist who taught at York University and Osgoode Hall Law School for more than 20 years.Bernadine Dodge

To most people, a smurf is a blue cartoon character, but to Margaret Beare, smurfs were harmless-looking people, usually young, who play a role in money laundering by fanning out and making cash deposits of just less than $10,000 for drug dealers. Above $10,000, banks are required to report cash deposits.

A criminologist who taught at York University and Osgoode Hall Law School for more than 20 years, Prof. Beare knew the argot of the underworld; she wrote about smurfing and other techniques for changing dangerous and dirty money into legitimate dollars in Money Laundering in Canada (with Stephen Schneider) and in other influential books. Her earliest book, published in 1996, was Criminal Conspiracies: Organized Crime in Canada.

“Very few criminologists were studying the phenomenon; it was the first scholarly treatment of organized crime in Canada,” according to James Sheptycki, a criminologist colleague at York who describes himself as a young scholar at the time who “followed in her wake.”

Her rigorous research into criminal networks and money laundering involved checking reams of information submitted to judges to obtain a search warrant or restraining order or permission to wiretap, as well as reading court records, newspaper trial reports and detailed questionnaires to police.

“We called it socio-legal studies; Margaret was bringing strong research skills to the study of policing and organized crime,” Mary Condon, dean of Osgoode Hall, recalled in an interview. “Not many researchers worked on that in the 1990s. She taught a course on policing and security – a very popular course. She was the mainstay of our graduate program. A lot of students came to do grad studies at Osgoode because she might be available to supervise them.”

Prof. Beare taught at Osgoode until her death on Aug. 10 of endometrial cancer, at the age of 72. She had been ill for two years.

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Beare, right, with her daughter, Nhai Nguyen-Beare.Courtesy of the Family

Margaret Evelyn Beare was born in Markham, Ont., on Dec. 17, 1946, the second of three daughters of Hilliard and Evelyn Beare, who worked a 100-acre mixed farm near Agincourt, Ont. The farm had been in the family since the 19th century, when her great-grandfather Richard Beare arrived in Canada from Sussex, England.

She studied English and sociology at Guelph University, and took a B.A. then an M.A., shedding English studies along the way. “Our father was a big believer in education and determined that we should all be educated,” her elder sister, Bernadine Dodge, recalled.

After graduating from Guelph, a job as a counsellor at the Vanier Centre for Women – a correctional centre in Brampton – changed Margaret’s focus. “That’s when she became interested in law and the difficulties of women in prison,” her sister recalled.

Prof. Beare taught at the Western Australian Institute of Technology for a couple of years, where she made many friends, then in 1974, obtained a diploma in criminology at Cambridge University in England. She next enrolled in a PhD program at Columbia University in New York, teaching at nearby colleges to support herself. Well before she obtained her doctorate from Columbia in 1987 with a thesis on the Toronto police force over the previous three decades, she was hired by the Solicitor-General’s office in Ottawa, and spent 11 years as the senior research officer and director of research there.

York University hired her in 1995 to teach sociology and she was later cross appointed to Osgoode Hall, where she became the first director of the Jack and Mae Nathanson Centre on Transnational Human Rights, Crime and Security.

Andrew Goldsmith, a professor at Flinders University in Australia, met her in Toronto when they were both doctoral students with shared interests in policing and blues music. He recalled in an e-mail: “Aside from her personal qualities (warm, funny, loyal, feisty) she stood out academically. She had a very fine appreciation of organized crime in Canada and North America generally.”

After her foundational book on organized crime, she was sought out by policy-makers and asked to speak at conferences in Australia, Brazil, Malaysia and China. In her lifetime, she saw crime evolve with the introduction of new technologies and such social changes as legalized gambling. YouTube has preserved one of her illustrated lectures.

She cautioned that bombastic, “tough on crime” rhetoric by politicians is never helpful and tends to escalate security problems. What was needed to disrupt criminal networks, she argued, was patient police work to identify and stop the enablers who allow criminals to enjoy the proceeds of crime. Enablers might include real estate agents, auction houses, car dealerships, and even lawyers and accountants who know how to hide dirty money. She advocated a multipronged approach.

Among her later books was Putting the State on Trial: The Policing of Protest During the G20 Summit, published in 2015, in which she critically examined the largest mass arrests in Canadian history.

Prof. Beare travelled widely, loved to entertain friends and had a series of canine companions – Coco, Buddy, Harley – all of them golden retrievers, and all of them rescue dogs.

She never married. When she was nearing 50, she adopted her daughter, Nhai, then 4, in Vietnam, who brought much joy into her life. Nhai, who nursed her during her final illness, recalled that her mother “was always there for people and helped them.”

While Prof. Beare was well aware of the greed, cruelty and selfishness of which people are capable, she carried with her a lasting idealism about social responsibility and the power of community. At the root of crime, she saw social injustice. With her friends and neighbours from Toronto’s Annex, she sponsored a Syrian refugee family and took part in the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition, a small volunteer group founded by former mayor John Sewell. Representatives attend the periodic meetings of the police board and raise concerns about behaviour such as carding or the overuse of strip searches.

“We played a part in getting rid of carding,” Mr. Sewell explained, while admitting that his group has little power. “Most academics don’t want to wade into this real-world stuff, but Margaret did. Changes to police culture are very difficult.”

Margaret Beare leaves her sisters, Bernadine Dodge and Christine Kearsley, and daughter, Nhai Nguyen-Beare.


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