A Nova Scotia privacy lawyer says a sting organized by the vigilante group Cape Breton Creep Catchers that led to the arrest of a Charlottetown man last week may not hold up in court.
"The police, when they see this sort of stuff, they say, 'Well, there's nothing we can do with this. This will not stand up in court,'" said David Fraser.
"I will be fascinated to see if this ultimately does stand up in court."
The sting by the controversial organization involved one of its members posing as a 14-year-old girl in an online chat. In that chat, the 31-year-old man allegedly made arrangements to commit sexual offences against the girl.
Concerns with methodology
The man travelled to Cape Breton and was confronted by Creep Catchers. The interaction was recorded on video.
"I have a problem with their methodology and I have a problem with what was really going to be the ultimate result," said Fraser.
"I've seen [Creep Catchers] selectively edit the stuff that they put online along with video that looks pretty salacious overall, but they don't adhere to the same standards [as police]."
Fraser said the arrest Aug. 10 in Charlottetown was one of the first times he's heard of charges laid as a result of Creep Catchers.
The man has been charged with making an agreement or arrangement to commit a sexual offence against a child. He's due in court later this month.
"The problem is that what they create is something that can only be used for shaming which ruins people's lives, ruins people's careers," he said.
"There's a real concern — and the police have voiced this — that when they actually encounter the individual, there's a real possibility for violence ... the most shameful thing you can call someone these days is a child predator."
'Beyond a reasonable doubt'
In July, Creep Catchers based in Surrey, B.C., was ordered by that province's privacy watchdog to destroy its videos because the group violated B.C.'s Personal Information Protection Act.
While privacy laws are different in Atlantic Canada, Fraser said most of what Creep Catchers puts online is defamatory.
"I wouldn't think that somebody with that motivation is going to make a credible witness," said Fraser.
"All of the elements of the Criminal Code offence have to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt."
Police from both provinces said they don't approve of the group's methods, but they will follow up on crime tips put forward by the public, including Creep Catchers.
"Any incident we investigate where there's a report of sexual exploitation to children, we take those offences very seriously," said Sgt. Michael Murphy of the Cape Breton Regional Police Service's internet child exploitation unit.
"What we don't encourage is for people to actively investigate things on their own. In the case of the Creep Catchers, where they may set up face-to-face meetings with somebody, we of course have concerns for the safety of those people and for potentially the suspect that may be involved as well."