Creep Catchers bring vigilante tactics to Ottawa Valley
'Let us catch them,' police urge vigilantes, who post confrontations with suspected predators online
"We're here to expose guys like you," Luke Arnott can be heard telling another man on a video shot last week in his hometown of Carleton Place, Ont.
Arnott is a tattoo artist and father of five. The other man in the video has come to the McDonald's parking lot off Highway 7 to meet a 14-year-old girl.
"You're here to meet Becky, aren't you?" Arnott demands.
The man can be heard saying "yeah," he was there to meet Becky, before shouting expletives and leaving in his car.
But there is no Becky.
'They come looking for us'
The man was lured to the parking lot by Arnott and two other members of a group they call Ottawa Valley Creep Catchers. The vigilante movement, with roots in Western Canada, has recently moved east.
Members create online "dummy profiles" to catch the interest of their unsuspecting targets, then lure them to meetings like the one in Carleton Place. They record the ensuing confrontations and post the videos online to publicly shame the suspected predators.
"They come looking for us. We don't initiate any contact," Arnott told CBC News. "We show up, and we expose them."
Arnott said members typically use websites such as Plenty of Fish and Craigslist to post their fake profiles.
"The guy was like 30 years old, looking to meet a 14-year-old … his intentions were definitely ill," said Arnott about the video from Carleton Place, the Ottawa Valley chapter's first confrontation.
Their tactics are controversial. But Arnott insists Creep Catchers have more resources than the police to catch potential predators.
"In my belief our methods are a lot more effective … just because we can devote more time. Because we are a volunteer organization, we have more people all across the country, and can devote more time to targeting," he said.
'Let us do the job,' police urge
But Ottawa police don't see it that way.
"If you suspect somebody of a crime, or you have information on a crime, let us do the job, let us catch them. You don't know what you're getting yourself into," said Const. Marc Soucy of the Ottawa Police Service.
"You don't know how these people are going to react when they're cornered ... we're trained to handle these situations, so I would suggest you let the police handle these."
Let us catch them. You don't know what you're getting yourself into.- Const. Marc Soucy, Ottawa police
In September the man who heads up the Surrey, B.C., chapter of Creep Catchers apologized after the group wrongly accused an RCMP officer of being a pedophile.
Local criminal defence lawyer Michael Spratt said that misstep raises concerns about the Ottawa Valley group.
'Guilty people may escape justice'
"There's an important principle in our society, and that's people are presumed innocent until proven otherwise. And investigations like this can catch up innocent people in sort of vigilante type of justice," said Spratt, a partner at Abergel Goldstein & Partners.
Spratt said even well-meaning vigilantes can potentially interfere with the court process if charges are laid in a case they've been involved in.
"Evidence can be tainted, memories are always vulnerable at the best of times, there can be severe evidentiary problems that … these vigilante investigations can lead to, and that can imperil the actual court process," said Spratt.
Sense of accomplishment
But Arnott said Ottawa Valley Creep Catchers have no plans to stop their work.
"We're not going away. If anything, we're expanding," he said.
"I mean, I have kids that are coming up on that age, where you know they could potentially be a target of predators like this. So, it's definitely a big part in why I do what I do."
"It's a great sense of accomplishment in exposing these people and getting them off the internet," said Arnott.