Ottawa police wouldn't confirm or deny if they are investigating complaints that a man is recording conversations with women and then posting them to YouTube, but is asking anyone who's been the target of this kind of behaviour to contact them.

Several Ottawa women, including a worker with Nobel Women's Initiative in Ottawa, spoke out about Luke Howard, a self-titled "pickup artist" and hypnotist who has posted videos in which he talks up women on the street and tries to get their phone numbers.

Const. Chuck Benoit said filming people in public isn't necessarily illegal if the person being filmed is older than 18, if the video doesn't focus on body parts in a sexual way and if it wasn't filmed in a place where there's an expectation of privacy, such as a public washroom.

But some of the behaviour could fall under harassment, he added.

"As soon as one person feels they want to conclude this conversation...and there's a pursuance from the other party continuing the conversation, that's where the harassment component, the legal part of it, starts," Benoit said.

"There are a lot of things in life that are going to be very uncomfortable for different people, but the main thing behind it is, has a crime been committed?" he added.

Ottawa police are encouraging anyone who's been the target of this kind of behaviour to contact them.

Strong social media backlash 

After women came forward with their stories, Howard made the videos private, accessible only to him. He told CBC Ottawa he wanted an opportunity to edit the videos to "protect people's anonymity going forward."

He says the overwhelming majority of women he approaches don't feel it is harassment and said his goal was to spread the message that talking to people was easy.

Julie Lalonde of Hollaback Ottawa, an organization that aims to stop street harassment, said Howard's actions require a community response, not just a legal one.

"We know that a legal response is not going to stop this," she said. "What's going to stop this is community accountability." 

Lalonde said macho behaviour is usually meant to impress other men, and that it's important for bystanders to intervene to stop street harassment.

"It's because of people like Luke Howard that you can't talk to women in public...without them being fearful of you," she said.

"Don't be mad at women for being naturally and intelligently apprehensive that a strange man is trying to engage in conversation with them, because that woman now may think, is he secretly filming me? That's the example Luke Howard is setting."

Lalonde added that she's heartened by the community support women who've spoken out about Howard have received.

"I think it's encouraging that women feel safe enough to come forward," she said.

Response on social media has been vocal and passionate and included more women coming forward to say they had encounters with Howard.

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