SURREY — Surrey Creep Catchers is poising to expand its operation into small-town B.C., flat-out undaunted by lawsuits and complaints to the privacy commission recently lodged by the people they target and “blast” online.
Surrey Creep Catchers is a local chapter of a Canada-wide online movement that, according to its Facebook page, "focuses on the apprehension and media publication of predators spreading awareness about an ongoing epidemic, pedophilia."
The organization’s aim is to weed out "potential predators" by posing as children online, arranging to meet adults who think they've been communicating with a child, confronting them, filming them and then posting the videos on Facebook.
The group is considered heroic to many and the vigilante equivalent of a bull in a china shop to others. It’s run by Whalley resident Ryan LaForge, 34, whom the Now-Leader’s predecessor, the Surrey Now, first introduced to readers last summer.
Since then, LaForge said, he’s learned a lot.
“Oh lots, patience,” he said in a sit-down interview this week at a Surrey shopping mall. “I learned a lot about myself, but the most is that there is always different ways of skinning a cat. You always hear about how the media is the devil, the media is this. It’s true. But I alway realize it’s true that any publicity is good publicity and when you’re doing something like this it needs to be out there and put out there for the people to make their own decisions whether the media twists it or whatever.
“The people who see it for what it is, that’s all who we need. They have our back, they support us and that’s all we can ask for," LaForge said. “The only thing that keeps me up is creeps. The media, the police, the government, the haters, none of that fazes us. We have a mandate — our mandate is to catch as many creeps, expose as many as we can, keep our community safe as much as we can and make as much noise till we can eventually make some changes in our government.”
Despite their critics among the media, the police and in legal circles, these groups have nonetheless thrived and collaborated with one another in Canadian cities coast to coast.
“There’s a problem out there and hiding from it, pretending like it's not there, pointing fingers and pointing blame on other people who are trying to do something about it isn't going to fix it," LaForge said. "It's real, it's happening, and we're just doing the best we can with what we've got. Something that no one else is willing to do right now. We just need everyone's support and if you don't support it, then like my mom taught me, if you don't have anything nice to say then don't say anything at all."
To date, LaForge is facing two defamation lawsuits and two complaints filed with the Office of the Information and Privacy Commission. Under B.C.'s Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA), an investigation can result in an organization being ordered by the commissioner to stop the collection, use and disclosure of personal information and failing to comply with such an order could result in a fine up to $100,000.
Most people, with all this on their plate, would be worried. But not LaForge, who is willing to go to jail for the SCC cause.
“It is what it is. Everyone’s got a job to do,” he said. “We’ve got our supporters, that’s what we do it for. We know the effect that we’re having. We know that with every single catch, that there would have been a potential child that would have been harmed, there’s no doubt in our mind. We do the chat logs, we know what they’re saying. We know that if it wasn’t us that showed up that that person, no matter what they say in the video, is going off with that child. We sleep good at night knowing we’ve saved at least one.”
Theoretically, that is, as no real children are involved but rather adults posing as children online.
According to Section 172.1 of Canada's Criminal Code, governing internet luring, the Crown must prove an accused "believes" the person he or she was communicating with was a minor. A person found guilty of luring a minor on computer is "liable to imprisonment for a term of not more than ten years," the code states.
The age of sexual consent in Canada was raised to 16 from 14 years on May 1st, 2008 under the Tackling Violent Crime Act.
LaForge’s latest incursion into the news was Monday evening, when he was doing a “sting” on a man whom he alleges came to pay for sex with a six-year-old. This was at 6:30 p.m., LaForge said, outside the Tim Horton’s at Central City Shopping Centre.
The decoy told Global BC that the man wanted to have sex with herself — aka “the mother” and her imaginary six-year-old child, for $50.
LaForge can be seen on video pushing a man into a corner and yelling at him to stay put.
“I performed a clean citizens arrest. Yeah, I may have got a little heated, but everything was controlled. It’s all within context. I don’t feel bad, you know, I pat myself on the back because me ten years ago, it wouldn’t have went down like that. It would have been a real assault," LaForge said.
“We needed him to stay there, we needed the police to come, we needed the public to see that it’s not just for fifteens, for ice cream, there’s people out there that are willing to do everything and anything and sometimes it takes more than just the police to uncover this. They’ve got their hands tied; there are some things they can, they can’t do.”
The Surrey RCMP slapped LaForge with a promise to appear in Surrey provincial court on June 7, on an allegation of assault related to what he described as a citizens arrest.
A PTA, Surrey RCMP Corporal Scotty Schumann noted, is not a charge. "It is a process to get a person to court," he explained. "A charge is contained on an information sworn by a justice of the peace or a judge at court. Only a sworn information is a charge."
Schumann said the child luring and assault allegations are being investigated but charges have not been laid.
"As we have said previously," Schumann said, "the Surrey RCMP does not support, condone, or recommend vigilantism. Vigilantism, no matter how well meaning, does not involve police, and therefore is void of ongoing safety considerations. Vigilantism is a risk to the safety of all those involved including victims, or potential victims, the alleged suspects, and/or the safety of those persons intent on broadcasting the suspected crime."
Meantime, LaForge narrated his version of this latest SCC sting.
“He went to leave but we had the police called ahead of time so I placed him under citizen’s arrest,” LaForge said, “allowing myself to use enough force to keep him there until police arrive.
“He kept trying to leave so I kept pushing him back.”
LaForge said that when the police arrived, the corporal in charge asked him to stop filming, “and I declined.
“He wasn’t happy, so at the end of the episode he came and arrested me for assault.”
LaForge said he was taken in to be fingerprinted and was then released on a promise to appear in court.
“I’m guessing when push comes to shove, when I go, I won’t be on the docket. But we’ll see,” he said.
“They threw me in cuffs, they took me to the cop shop, they fingerprinted me. He was arrested, he was taken to the precinct. Actually, when I was there we had to wait in the cop car for a little bit because he was there and they wanted to make sure he was out. He got a three police car escort back to the mall where he had parked his car. He got an escort back to the car; I had to walk the streets of Surrey.”
Surrey Creep Catchers made national headlines last September after a woman working with the group posed as a 15-year-old girl and allegedly communicated with an off-duty Surrey Mountie online after posting an ad on Craigslist.
A meeting was set up outside the Boston Pizza at Surrey Central Shopping Mall in Whalley and LaForge and his crew live-streamed the sting on the Internet.
Constable Dario Devic was arrested on Sept. 9 and next appearance in Surrey provincial court is set for Aug. 3, 2017. He has been suspended from police duty.
Supporters of Surrey Creep Catchers, wearing black hoodies and masking their faces with scarves, have rallied outside the courthouse on his previous court dates.
Devic was originally charged with luring a child and breach of trust by a public officer but the Criminal Justice Branch stayed the latter, concluding it did not meet the branch's charge assessment standard.
Whatever lies in SCC's future, controversy will most certainly accompany it.
The group is staging a fundraiser on April 28, with ticket and event information on its facebook page.
Asked if he's raising money for a legal defence fund, LaForge replied, “Well, whatever bumps in the road come. If I do need to get legal defence it will definitely help with that, yes.”
But he said the main focus of the fundraiser is to finance SCC's expansion into small-town B.C.
“Our main goal with this is to get some gas, get some rental cars, get some hotels so we can go and do some road trips and go expose some sick people in towns that don’t have this service right now.”
“That’s a secret. It’s all B.C. All of B.C., LaForge said. "We’ve got to take care of our province first. If we can expand beyond that, sure.”