It's been a relatively successful couple of weeks for vigilante child predator hunters in Canada.
Last Friday, Surrey RCMP announced they were investigating one of their own officers for child luring and sexual exploitation as a result of a Wednesday night Creep Catchers sting.
A video posted to Surrey Creep Catchers' Facebook page shows chapter president Ryan Laforge confronting a man who he calls a "cop pedo." The police were later called in and apprehended a suspect—a Mountie whose name has not yet been released. RCMP spokesman Rob Vermeulen told VICE the officer has been suspended with pay and was released after a judicial hearing with a number of conditions.
"We continue to liaise with Crown Counsel with respect to charges," he said. The lack of charges explains why the officer hasn't been publicly identified.
Meanwhile, an Okanagan group called Creep Hunters identified a BC sheriff in late August as having expressed interest in a sexual relationship with someone he believed to be a 14-year-old girl. The sheriff reportedly responded to a fake Craigslist ad posted by Creep Hunters and sent several photos of himself, including two where he was in uniform, and a couple of dick pics.
Speaking to Global News, a woman who identified herself as a decoy for Creep Hunters said the sheriff "had placed an ad about a father and daughter fantasy he had."
After being confronted by a couple of Creep Hunters members in a parking lot, the sheriff bailed, but later reached out to the decoy "asking me what he could do so I don't ruin his life." She told Global the sheriff is the third person she's hunted who is a member of the justice system.
The BC Justice Ministry told VICE the sheriff "is no longer a public service employee" but did not say if criminal charges have been laid against him.
The developments appear to fly in the face of heavy criticism lodged at civilian child predator hunters by law enforcement agencies who condemn vigilantism.
"Creep Catchers is proving that we, the people, have to take control of our lives again. We can't trust the police or government to protect us," reads a post by Paul Jeeves on the Surrey Creep Catchers Facebook wall. "We need to have to right to protect our families and property, without the worry that WE will be arrested because we exercised that right."
However, the group demonstrated its own shortcomings by wrongly identifying an innocent Mountie—Dan Johnson—as the suspect from last week's sting. Laforge said a name he said on camera sounded similar to Johnson's and other Creep Catchers wrongly assumed Johnson was the suspect.
In a statement released Friday RCMP Assistant Commissioner Brenda Butterworth-Carr said "I would also like to take this time to ensure there is absolute clarity that the police officer we are dealing with is not Const. Dan Johnson as some individuals have indicated on social media. The misinformation and unfair assumptions attached to Dan have been extremely difficult for him and his family and is an example of why we ask for an investigation, due process, and formal charges to be considered before any name is discussed publicly."
Toronto-based criminal lawyer Michael Lacy said the screw-up is just one reason why so-called vigilantes shouldn't take on the work of police. Another issue is that they could botch a police investigation by tipping off a potential criminal before there's enough evidence to make an arrest.
"Because they're not trained investigators… they may not gather evidence that can be used in court," Lacy told VICE. He said they can also put themselves in harm's way and unlike police, they're not trained in use of force.
"I don't think these organizations should feel emboldened by the fact that what they've done has led to an arrest."
But, judging by the rate at which Creep Catchers branches have popped up across the country, the trend is unlikely to stop any time soon.
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