by Craig E Jones, Q.C., Professor of Law.
Q: Why are you opposed to Creep Catchers?
A: I’ve been observing the online growth of the Creep Catchers movement and I oppose it for many reasons. But most fundamentally, I think it is dangerous to have entertainment-based law enforcement, driven by competition for attention and viewership. We have seen Surrey Creep Catchers, for instance, go from a few discrete “sting” operations to its present state, where it taunts an uncritical audience of thousands (“Who wants a live catch?”), and tries to constantly outdo itself (and competing CC groups) with the number of “catches”. Couple this with its adoption of the fundamentally fascist tactic of excluding critical or reluctant voices by branding critics as “pedo lovers”, its attempts at commercialization through online advertising and T-shirt sales, and so on, and you have a bad situation. It’s becoming a machine that will feed its audiences craving with more and more “blasts”, and it won’t care if the “targets” are guilty or innocent. And that’s exactly what we’re seeing now.
That’s my basic philosophical objection. Operationally, I worry about their education, training and intelligence, which all seem to be lacking (I’m trying not to be unkind, but many seem to be essentially unemployable criminals who can barely craft a coherent sentence), and the mesmerized adoration of their followers. I dislike the Creep Catchers methods, which involve the systematic offences against many innocent people, and the occasionally sadistic glee that characterizes their “operations”.
Q: Is it because you’re a goof and a creep and a pedophile who’s afraid he’s going to be caught?
A: This is kind of like saying that if you’re opposed to capital punishment for rapists, then you must be a rapist, or at least pro-rape. I’m the father of two kids aged 9 and 13. I care a lot about what happens to them, and I also care a lot about the kind of world that they’re growing up to live in. I don’t want that to be the Creep Catchers world. Just because we disagree about the Creep Catchers doesn’t mean we disagree about child sexual abuse. Every right-thinking parent is terrified by the thought of a child becoming the victim of a predator. But we can’t let that primal fear be cynically exploited by online entertainers, and lead us to sacrifice our most basic morals and principles.
Q: What do you mean that the Catchers commit “offenses against many innocent people”? Don’t the “creeps” get what they deserve?
A: Most of the people initially sucked into CC stings aren’t “creeps” – they’re adults looking to meet other adults on dating sites. When the Catchers place an ad, they pretend to be an adult woman. Many people respond to that ad, in good faith, and there’s a conversation – maybe an hour, maybe weeks or months. At some point the CC ‘drop the age bomb’ and claim to (now) be an underage girl. Most men then terminate the conversation, but not before the CC have harvested their personal information using online deception, tricked them into revealing often intimate details about their lives, and wasted their time. This is an offence under the Personal Information Protection Act, and a civil wrong under the Privacy Act. And it’s also just plain wrong – people have a right to use dating sites without being subject to amateur virtue tests operated by some hopped-up slob hovering over a computer screen in some Surrey basement. Creep catchers may enjoy their little ‘cloak and dagger’ ‘cat and mouse’ game, but they have no right to include others in it against their will.
Q: OK, but the ones they do catch aren’t innocent, right?
A: Depends on what you mean by “innocent”. From the CC videos and chats I’ve seen, I would say that many of the “blasted” aren’t “guilty” in the criminal sense, although of course some of them are. But the CC don’t set their threshold at criminal guilt: they have a “moral bright line” that says anyone who will agree to meet with an underage person is a pedophile. I personally question this threshold, because I can conceive of many reasons adults and teenagers can legitimately and innocently talk with each other. It worries me that CC apparently can’t believe that a 14 or 15 year old is anything but a sexual object. But really, that’s something about which reasonable people can disagree. If the CC simply reported what people did (“Target X agreed to meet a 15 year old for coffee and discuss art”), that would be one thing, but their obsession with underage sex makes them leap to the further conclusion: (“Target x agreed to meet a 15 year old for coffee and discuss art, therefore he is a pedophile, child molester, and deserves to have his life ruined”).
Occasionally they go much further. When Sean Smith posted an online video in which he criticized the CC groups, Ryan LaForge, SCC President, made a number of posts identifying Smith as a pedophile. Enthusiastic followers uncritically believe what Ryan LaForge says, so they went to war against Smith. One of them even posted a photo of Smith’s elderly mother, because, he explained, Smith’s actions must have “repercussions”. There’s plenty of other examples. In one SCC video, a “target” is chased to a police station. When the cop treats the CC group with what seemed to supporters to be rudeness, the mob says “he must be a pedophile too”, and so he becomes the “pedo cop” or the “goof cop”. There are dozens of examples. So on the ‘threshold of guilt’ question, we’ve now gone from definition A (people who try to arrange sex with a minor), to include B (people who meet with a minor for any reason) and now C (people who don’t enthusiastically support Creep Catchers). When you combine this “threshold” expansion with the CC need to maintain support through volume of “catches”, this becomes a greater and greater problem.
Q: So what are people supposed to do with the justice system failing them so badly?
A: Well to start with, I question the premise. Most people who talk about the failure of the justice system have no data to back that up – it’s just an impression that they have from TV and the internet. What they have is anecdotes to indicate that, despite all the police’s efforts, child sexual predation still occurs. That is the same of course for most things in life. Despite regulators’ efforts to demand safer cars, people are still killed in accidents. My own impression is that Canada does a very good job at investigating criminals and prosecuting crime, including internet luring. But we can’t be willing to allow groups to commit crimes, abuse rights, and basically do anything they want as long as a single child predator walks the streets, on the excuse that “at least they’re trying to help kids”.
But the question was, what can people do? Honestly, if you want to obsess over this aspect of child safety (sexual predation), focus on the real source – 90% or more – of the danger. Not online predators or other strangers, but family, friends, and other people who interact with kids in person. That’s where almost all of the abuse occurs. Second, to cover off the (mercifully unlikely) possibility of online predation, educate your kids, and kids generally, about the dangers and how to avoid them. CC’s time could be far more usefully employed in these areas, but it makes for poor TV, and investigations and education are hard. Their response is, of course, “well, you focus on those areas. I’m doing this”. Sure OK, but you asked.