Active in eight cities across Canada, these guys say they're exposing would-be predators. But police say they put people—and investigations—at risk.
Dawson Raymond has many names for adult men who troll for underage girls and boys on the internet. "Sick fucks," "fucking pigs," and "rapist douche motherfuckers" are just a few examples I hear over the phone.
A mason worker living in Calgary with three pit bulls, Raymond occasionally apologizes for becoming "overheated." Just thinking about child predators, it seems, never ceases to make his blood boil.
But Raymond assures me he takes a cooler approach when posing as a 13-year-old girl on popular dating sites. As the ringleader of a growing team of vigilante pedophile hunters, he wants to make sure "nobody does anything stupid."
"We're not trying to set people up," he says of the To Catch a Predator tactic. "We don't ask anybody to meet us... we wait for them to talk to us."
With this strategy, Raymond says it doesn't take long to find men sending unsolicited pictures, asking about sex, and even inviting supposed minors to meet IRL. "I'm telling you, the first time it took me ten fucking minutes, and I had like twenty of them talking to me," he says. "I figured it would get harder, but it hasn't."
In September of last year, Raymond started confronting these men at malls and fast food joints with cameras rolling, later posting the videos and chat logs online. Between his Facebook page and branded "creep catchers" website, the videos can rack up thousands of shares and hundreds of thousands of views. As you can imagine, the project is a polarizing one. Some commenters tell Raymond and his team to let police do the "big boy job," while others call him a national hero.
He says he learned the technique from watching Justin Payne, a Mississauga-based vigilante who has confronted more than 150 alleged predators. But it's Raymond who has brought an entrepreneurial spirit to that cause, helping start up chapters in Victoria, Nanaimo, Edmonton, Grande Prairie, Lloydminster, Saskatoon, and soon, Regina.
Calgary police are familiar with Raymond's work. Media have asked them for reaction enough times that I'm sent a prepared unattributed statement: "The Calgary Police Service is aware of the incidents that have been alleged by Mr. Raymond and is actively investigating these complaints," it reads. "The Service in no way advocates a citizen taking police action into their own hands and conducting their own investigations."
The statement goes on to say pedophile hunting is dangerous and puts both vigilantes and their loved ones at risk—something Raymond readily admits. He knows that some of his targets will try to retaliate, and he makes sure his fellow team members are prepared for the same.
"I'm making sure they're soldiers," says Raymond of his vetting process. "I'm not just bringing on any flimsy, Joe-blow guy."
Some of them work in oil and gas, others in warehouses, though none have a background in law enforcement. "We come from all walks of life, but we all have one general thing in common: We don't like these fuckers," quips Raymond.
He's also wary of naïve copycats: "The last thing I need is some little kids going out and doing it themselves."
So Raymond keeps a tight lid on his organization, making sure all the videos and chat logs are put in the hands of appropriate law enforcement officials. His site even includes a legal disclaimer: "All persons portrayed are considered innocent until proven guilty in a court of law," it reads. "We make no assertions of guilt and provide our viewers with content within the limits of Section 309 of the Criminal Code of Canada."
"Everything goes through me before it's published," he adds. "Even from my other teams, because I make sure it's good."
What law enforcement does with the evidence, Raymond says, isn't clear.
According to the Calgary police, Raymond's public-shaming method can actually interfere with investigations. "If evidence is not collected or submitted to police properly, the suspect might not be charged or convicted," reads the police statement. "Without a charge or conviction, there is no record of the offense or court orders to prevent the suspect from having unsupervised contact with children in the future."
But canned statements like these don't seem to deter Raymond. In fact, he claims that most police unofficially support what he's doing. "I've talked to a lot of police. On the record, they're telling me I can't do it... [but] off the record, they all say not to stop and keep going."
Raymond's motivation comes from a deep anger at the Canadian justice system's inaction on child predators. In his eyes, there aren't enough investigations to begin with, and there certainly aren't enough pedophiles in jail.
"They protect them by giving reduced sentences, like fucking two months—it's a joke," he says. "What I'm doing is making sure people know who the fuck these people are."
Risky or not, Raymond shows no signs of slowing down his cross-Canada mission to out pedophiles. "I started doing this, and I'll die doing this."
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