'Creep Catchers' could face thousands in fines for dubious catches
Published Tuesday, February 21, 2017 12:15PM EST
Steve thought he was meeting a teenager in a coffee shop in Surrey, B.C. to talk about his art. Then the cameras came out.
A stranger accused the 33-year-old of breaking the law. Soon, video of the confrontation was posted online by a group that claims it goes after “goofs” – prison slang for pedophiles. His face and name was clearly visible.
“We’re going to put you on Facebook, we’re going to put you on YouTube, you’re going to be all over the place,” the man told him.
“In my mind I knew I didn’t do anything wrong,” Steve said later, pointing to the record of the conversation that remained on his phone. “I told him, ‘You didn’t catch me doing anything.’”
W5 is not using Steve’s surname to avoid further harm to his reputation. But Steve is among the few people who have decided to take on the Creep Catchers and try to win their reputations back.
The Creep Catchers are a nationwide network of self-appointed pedophile hunters. At one point, the group had more than a dozen chapters across Canada.
The catchers chat with suspected child predators online, and lure them for a confrontation in real life which they post on social media and encourage their supporters to share.
But a W5 documentary called “Creep Out” has found cases where confrontations of people who authored disturbing chats are posted alongside confrontations of people whose chats don’t have any sexual content.
Some targets have told W5 they feared for their jobs if employers found out about the allegations. Some threatening online posts were the reason one target told W5 he feared for his safety. The documentary also explores what happened when one woman committed suicide after being shamed online.
The Surrey Creep Catcher president Ryan Laforge told CTV News he’s confident he’s only getting the guilty.
“Ninety per cent of our videos, they admit that they screwed up, and that they’re sorry, or whatever. The other ten per cent run away,” he said.
In Steve’s case, the conversation began when he answered a Craigslist ad in the “strictly platonic” section of Craigslist, called “Good vibes only :) – w4m.”
“I’m really into art if you want to do that,” Steve writes. “Bicycle adventures are fun too.”
“I’m 15. If your ok with that then let’s chill,” Bekky says.
“Hey I’m 33,” Steve responds. “If your into doing art and going on bike rides then yeah, I’m ok with your age.” He sends her a link to his Instagram page that shows off some of the art.
When he arrives, he’s greeted by Laforge, who asks him if he knows the age of consent. “It’s 16,” Steve says. “You basically broke the law,” Laforge says.
The age of consent in Canada refers to sexual acts. It’s not illegal to communicate online with a young person unless there is sexual intent.
Steve first tried to reason with Laforge, over e-mail and Facebook messenger. “I wasn’t going to lure anyone underage,” Steve wrote him in October.
“Buddy ur a goof go away,” Laforge responds.
“No, I’m not,” Steve replies.
“Ya u r goooooooooof,” Laforge responds.
This continues back and forth until Laforge stops responding. A month later, Steve writes that he will get a lawyer.
“Go f*** yourself goof,” Laforge responds.
Some targets have explored lawsuits against the Creep Catchers, but that can be expensive, because some in the group claim to have few assets.
The group’s founder, Dawson Raymond, taunted some targets in a Facebook video, saying: “I’ve been hearing rumours that some of these pedos are going to try to sue me. And I don’t have any money. So pay your lawyers to sue me for money I don’t have. Spend all that money to lawyer up.”
Laforge himself declared bankruptcy in 2007 and his bankruptcy trustee told W5 in February that he still has not paid off the debt that he owes.
But it’s not Laforge’s money that Steve is after. So, through his lawyer, Steve is trying a different legal tactic to take the video of him down: filing a privacy complaint.
In a filing with B.C.’s privacy commissioner Steve’s lawyer, Craig E. Jones claimed that the Creep Catchers are being deceptive in how they advertise online, and they’re not following B.C. rules in how they share personal information.
He’s asked the privacy commissioner to put a stop to the Creep Catchers’ ads.
“They can’t function without placing deceptive ads. That’s their entire operation,” he said. “This doesn’t just attack a situation where they get it wrong, it attacks their entire organization. The whole legal landscape has shifted under their feet.”
Jones says the privacy commissioner can levy fines of up to $100,000 per privacy breach by an organization, and make orders that can be enforced by a court.
It could make a difference for Steve’s case in the long run. But right now, the Surrey Creep Catchers are pushing back against Steve.
They responded to his privacy complaint by posting it along with his video, and asking their followers to share it once again.
Supporting document: Read the complaint to the B.C. Privacy Commissioner