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Privacy acts effective tools against vigilante outing groups

|Written By Jean Sorensen
Privacy acts effective tools against vigilante outing groups
Thompson Rivers law professor Craig Jones has obtained an order from the acting B.C. Information and Privacy Commissioner against Surrey Creep Catcher ordering it to take down video and information about a client and a second man.

A Thompson Rivers University law professor says that privacy acts can be effective tools for lawyers attempting to help innocent individuals ensnared by vigilante groups such as Creep Catcher, which outs suspected pedophiles by posting their video and personal information on the internet.  

“This is fairly new phenomenon,” says Craig Jones, as vigilante groups are springing up across Canada, in the United States and overseas in Australia. He says theory is that the 'creep catching' process is a series of violations of the Personal Information Protection Act.

Jones has successfully obtained an order from acting B.C. Information and Privacy Commissioner Drew McArthur against Surrey Creep Catcher ordering it to take down video and information regarding his client and a second man by Sept. 6.

“As far as I know, this is the only privacy decision order against Creep Catcher in Canada — or the world. I can't think of another similar case. It is unique in that way,” says Jones. 

The strength of such orders is now going forward to B.C. Supreme Court as Surrey Creep Catcher has filed for a judicial review. Jones says some of the information has been removed, but it keeps “popping up” on other sites.

Order P17-03 maintained that Surrey Creep Catcher collected, used and disclosed the complainants' personal information contrary to B.C.’s PIPA by using deception, was not an organization authorized or had consent to collect information and publish personal information and, finally, it could not argue it was practising journalism for the public good. It orders Surrey Creep Catcher to stop collecting information on the two individuals and destroy all personal information in its custody and under its control and to ask others who disseminated the information to remove and destroy it also. The order, which runs more than 18 pages, was issued July 24.

On Aug. 24, Surrey Creep Catcher president Ryan Laforge filed in B.C. Supreme Court his petition for a judicial review of the privacy commissioner's order.

Erin Beattie, director of communications for the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner for B.C., says the office is preparing a response to the petition filed in court. The privacy commissioner's office does not comment on or disclose details of any active investigation, nor will it comment on legal decisions its office has made such as an order.

Jones says he became involved a year ago. "It started for me last summer 2016," he says, while visiting the group's website and viewing encounters between SCC [Surrey Creep Catcher] and individuals who responded to Craigslist postings. SCC posts notices posing as a woman wanting to meet men for a platonic relationship. During the email or text conversation, the organization swaps the woman from an adult into a juvenile as young as 13. If the man still agrees to meet the individual, a decoy may be used and the group films the encounter, especially seeking individuals who are interested in luring under-aged girls for sex.

"I saw one of their busts [on their website] and he appeared to be completely innocent," says Jones, adding that it appeared to be an "attack" on that individual. Jones wrote an opinion piece for the Vancouver Sun warning of the pitfalls of vigilante groups and the harm they can do to innocent individuals, referring to the individual he saw in the video.

The individual, known in the privacy commissioner's order as Complainant 1, read the opinion piece and contacted Jones, and became his client. Jones said the 33-year-old man, who does not own a computer, had been inspired by the film Craigslist Joe, the 2012 documentary about a young man who travels across the U.S. during the 2008 recession relying on the generosity of strangers he met on Craigslist for food and shelter. Jones's client posted under platonic relationships using a library computer. Surrey Creep Catcher posed as “Bekky” — interested in art and motorcycles. Messages were swapped. Bekky indicated she was 15, not an adult female and asked if he still wanted to meet for coffee.

"My client [who kept the text message] said — 'as long as we are only meeting for coffee,'" Jones says.

When the meeting occurred, the client was filmed and the encounter posted on the group's site. Jones says that these outings have a devastating effect on an individual, including his client, as they impact where the individual lives, his work and his family.

Jones says he filed a privacy complaint on behalf of his client. It was followed by a second complainant, an individual suffering from cerebral palsy whose scooter was hit by a vehicle while fleeing from the Surrey Creep Catcher. Both complaints were dealt with in the same order by the privacy commissioner who ordered all information removed from the website.

Update on Sept 14, 2:31 p.m: Changes made to clarify comment by Craig Jones on theory that the 'creep catching' process is a series of violations the PIPA.

  • I commend you, Mr. Jones.

    Sheila Palento
    This order is going to pave the way for dozens of individuals that were falsely accused by these illegal vigilante organizations to take back some of their power, power that was STOLEN from them when groups such as Surrey Creep Catcher took it upon themselves to behave in a manner that effectively ignored privacy laws, human rights, as well as the requests made by law enforcement that they cease & desist. LaForge, the president of Surrey Creep Catcher, estimated himself in a Vice interview that only approximately 50% of the conversations leading to a video "sting" included any sexual context - which means there is a possibility up to 50% of the individuals that have been targeted by the group & its mob of supporters are INNOCENT of any illegal activity. These odds do NOT sit well with me and, according to the last poll taken regarding public support for vigilante "pedophile"-catching organizations, around 70% of citizens. We have trained men & women in the RCMP, municipal police departments, and the ICE Unit that are more than capable of handling the issue concerning internet child predators, and they do an admirable job of doing so. It's time laws were passed prohibiting this type of vigilante activity. Lives are being destroyed - jobs lost, families broken, even suicides - because of the gang & cult-like behavior of these organizations. What Mr. Jones has accomplished is admirable - but it MUST go further. Facebook appears to have clamped down on allowing the posting of the videos/pictures/"chat logs"/identification information these groups were sharing with their "followers" as a result of a "sting"; Interestingly enough, Ryan LaForge & his organization Surrey Creep Catcher have NOT been doing any "hunting" and "catching" as a result. If they truly do engage in these activities "for the children" - why not continue to do so despite the loss of "fanfare" they previously received on Facebook? It certainly hasn't stopped them from continuing to sell sweatshirts. Next in line for shutdown will be the organization that was created as an offshoot of Surrey Creep Catcher - Chilliwack Creep Catcher. Although they have been forced to change their Facebook privacy settings & can no longer "share" their "stings" outside their closed group for fear they, too, will be shut down by Facebook, they continue to engage in the EXACT same behavior as Surrey Creep Catcher. It won't be long before Facebook decides that they are no longer willing to allow this type of activity to continue to occur on their platform. Ex-cons should NOT be permitted to act like law enforcement - and their "catch and release" actions are doing NOTHING to protect children. It is time for these organizations, and those that operate under the same guise, to be shut down for good. I thank Mr. Jones for taking steps to make that happen.

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