Creep catcher confrontations part of problematic trend, Manitoba professor says
Brandon University professor says videotaped confrontations put both the catcher and the caught at risk
A Brandon University sociology professor who specializes in social media and policing says so-called "creep catcher" confrontations being posted online are a disturbing and problematic trend and might do more harm than good.
Christopher Schneider, a sociology professor in Brandon, Man., said the videos — and the people behind them— violate due process and could hamper police investigations that are already underway.
"These individuals are not police officers, they are not trained in how to collect or gather information," Schneider said.
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His comments come as the RCMP in Manitoba investigate the province's first "creep catcher" case after a video of a confrontation with a man in a truck in Carberry was streamed on Facebook Live by a group last week.
CBC News is not sharing the website the video was posted on or the name of the person in the truck. The confrontation took place in a parking lot in town, located about 45 kilometres east of Brandon.
In the video, an unidentified member of the group confronts the man, claiming he has come to meet a 15-year-old girl for sex.
The man in the truck denies the accusation but the man filming claims he has pictures and messages, although he offers no proof.
Risks on both sides of the camera
Schneider said such confrontations — which have been gaining in popularity across Canada — pose many risks for both the person who is confronted and the person behind the camera.
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"There is the possibility of violence in terms of a confrontation," Schneider said, adding that vigilante justice by bystanders or by people who view the video afterwards is a real possibility.
Chase Karnes, the founder of the Saskatchewan-based group at the centre of the Manitoba video, told CBC News that he and the other members are non-violent, but sometimes situations can get out of hand through the actions of non-members on the scene or those watching online.
He said the man confronted in Manitoba was actually assaulted by a bystander.
Schneider said there could also be legal implications for those behind the camera if the person confronted turns out to be wrongly accused.
"The possibility does exist for potential defamation or libel lawsuits," he said.
Past cases in Canada have seen a Mountie wrongly identified. Another video featured a mentally ill woman who later took her own life. Schneider said the videos also run the risk of chasing away people police may be tracking, making it hard for police to finish their investigation.
Go directly to police
"When we are looking at potentially depriving somebody of their liberty ... we have to make sure we are doing it right," Schneider said, adding that groups should go directly to the police with evidence instead of taking the law into their own hands.
The man's name is used in the video, and it shows the licence plate of his truck multiple times. The man also gave out a phone number on the video when asked by the man filming the confrontation. When CBC News tried calling the number on Monday, it was out of service.
Karnes said his group isn't taking the law into their own hands and are simply trying to stop people and get them help before police catch them, despite the lack of due process or the presumption of innocence in the videos and online accusations, and questions around the legalities of entrapment.
Schneider believes the attention the groups and videos garner on social media also help fuel the craze.
"It's easy to get attention this way," he said. "It looks like you're doing a good job and people are going to applaud that and people are going to get attention online."
RCMP said the video shows a very short piece of what happened and different aspects of it are under investigation.
It's a trend police are hoping doesn't catch on in Manitoba.
"Let the police do their job, let the Crown do their job," Schneider said. "They know very well that when they post these videos online, what some of the consequences are going to be in response to these videos."