When social media educator Sean Smith started a Facebook page dedicated to criticizing vigilante pedophile hunting in Canada, he knew he was making himself a target.
But Smith, who lives on Vancouver Island and runs the Facebook page The Truth About Creep Catchers, told VICE he didn't realize how extreme the Creep Catchers' backlash would be. In December 2016, Ryan Laforge, president of Surrey Creep Catchers, shared a Facebook live video in which Smith outlined his concerns about the vigilante movement.
"I can't even take this goof seriously," Laforge wrote. "Anyways let this pedo run his mouth it helps us anyone that follows or supports this guy is a creep so we know who to watch out for."
(Goof is a prison term for child molester.)
"The suggestion was right there, that I'm a pedophile," said Smith, alleging that Laforge also posted memes of him on Facebook that said "I love the smell.... of kids in the morning."
This week, Smith, 48, slapped Laforge with a defamation lawsuit, the second such suit Laforge has faced in recent weeks, in addition to a complaint filed with BC's Privacy Commissioner.
Smith's suit, dated March 16, accuses Laforge and 20 of his followers (listed as John and Jane Does) of calling Smith a pedophile, threatening to "blast" him, and of posting a photo of Smith's mother.
VICE has reached out to Laforge via Facebook. The messages have been read, but he has not responded.
However, Laforge told CKNW, "I never once called him a pedophile. I said he looks like one." As for the lawsuit itself, he said, "bring it on." He has 21 days to file an official response.
On Facebook, under the alias Dustin Ramdharee, Laforge wrote "Sean smith is now sueing me :)... Thought you had a crush on me !??! I'm suing Sean smith for harassment fuck it," including the hashtags "#fuckseansmith" and "#fuckyousueme."
But last night he wrote a post advising his followers not to engage in trolling. "Let's not stoop to their level."
Smith is seeking financial damages, a court order preventing future defamatory posts, and an injunction ordering Laforge to publicly declare Smith's innocence.
Smith, who frequently consults with parents, teachers, and kids on how to use social media, and is also an air cadets instructor, told VICE being labelled a "pedophile" has serious implications for his livelihood.
"If you're a parent and happen to see this post come out and hear that I'm coming to your school to teach your kids, what's your reaction going to be?" he said.
Smith believes the lawsuits have already had a cooling effect on creep catching.
"There has been a really big slowdown in BC, almost full stop," he said. "We're starting to see false accounts disappear, comments disappear."
But Surrey Creep Catchers still have more than 16,000 followers online.
Smith explained that, in part, he hopes his lawsuit inspires others who've been falsely accused by Creep Catchers to come forward.
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