Photo by Norman Wong

Why We Spent Months Investigating Canada's Vigilante Pedophile Hunters

VICE Canada's head of content explains why the popular 'Creep Catchers' have serious implications for Canadian democracy.

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Jan 5 2017, 7:45pm

Photo by Norman Wong

A particularly jarring scene from our upcoming documentary— Age of Consent—features Justin Payne, the subject of the film, in the midst of a confrontation with one of his targets.

If Payne's name does not already immediately ring a bell from his quick-hit coverage across Canadian newspaper covers and nightly news segments, he's one of those vigilante pedophile hunters you're more than likely aware of.

You know, the type of guy who spends hours upon hours setting online traps for alleged pedophiles to act on their urges. Then films his intense interactions with them and puts the footage online for a rabid audience. It's To Catch a Predator meets Jackass.

This is a part of a VICE Canada project investigating the impact of vigilante pedophile hunting in Canada.

Payne tricks men (they are nearly always men) with a fake kid's voice and a childlike vocabulary, sets up an in-person meeting, and to the life-ruining dismay of the predator, shows up as a fully grown (and very angry) man with a camera in his hand screaming things like: "YOU'RE HERE TO MEET A 13-YEAR-OLD GIRL!"

In the scene I'm referencing, from our documentary that you'll see next week, Payne's ambush is witnessed by several bystanders in an Ontario suburb who applaud him, urge him to continue his work, and then violently threaten the alleged predator (who is all the while vehemently denying the heinous luring Payne is so loudly accusing him of).

So, is that the type of justice that we, democratic Canadians, are after?

VICE Canada has been exploring and investigating this question for several months.

Manisha Krishnan, senior staff writer for VICE.com, first profiled Payne in late 2015, which sparked a range of reactions in our newsroom that led to the series of stories we are laying out before you now.

We know it's important work to expose the mindset of these vigilante pedophile hunters who are proliferating across the country and the continent.

We were given unprecedented access to the obviously unregulated stings that these men go on night after night. And what was the most shocking, to me anyhow, was how many predators they're able to catch in a given night in basically any major Canadian city.

In a series of three incredible features, Manisha has investigated how creep catching became so popular and how some vigilantes have confronted the disabled, as well as an interview to discover what a non-offending pedophile thinks about the Creep Catcher phenomenon.

Next week, we'll have a feature-length documentary directed by Shawney Cohen—who made our painfully important fentanyl epidemic documentary last year—that will bring you directly into the world of Payne, the country's most "famous" pedophile hunter who has spawned a legion of copycats.

For now, you can watch this teaser. If you can stomach this, you can stomach the film.

We hope this series of stories, and the forthcoming film, will elevate Canada's dialogue around the efficacy of this breed of vigilante justice, the seething rage from Canadians everywhere that it capitalizes on, and the anti-hero allure that has got so many Canadians cheering the Creep Catchers on.

Let us know what you think.

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