This is part one of a two-part series about what’s wrong with the Creep Catchers
The video is hard to watch as a man in his 60s meets up with what he thinks is a 12-year-old boy at a Chilliwack McDonald’s.
Awkward doesn’t go far enough to explain the following 31 minutes and 46 seconds as 67-year-old Don Putt is confronted, then harassed, belittled and bullied by members of Creep Catchers.
But unlike most other of the now well-known Creep Catchers videos that usually involve a shocked-looking man, confronted by aggressive guys with iPhones calling him a pedophile, Putt didn’t flee the scene. He sat there engaging with the online vigilantes, even as the interaction became immature, abusive and even threatening.
Present at the interaction, which ended with the arrest of Putt, which itself later culminated in a six-month prison sentence, was Ryan Laforge of the Surrey Creep Catchers and Marie Bullon, at the time a colleague in Laforge’s controversial vigilante group.
A success for the group to be sure. Not only did Putt go to jail for this luring charge, other victims of his lifetime of behaviour engaging underage boys in sexual activity came forward leading to yet more convictions.
But if one fires enough bullets in a crowd, eventually a bad guy gets hit.
The scattershot technique of Creep Catchers, the amateur and gang-style shaming attacks posted live online is coming under increasing criticism from experts in criminal justice and even from within the movement itself.
Marie Bullon was there at McDonald’s with Laforge and Putt, and even though she realized at that moment they had exactly what they were looking for, it still didn’t sit right.
“He was a big deal,” Bullon said of Putt, adding that he was “absolutely nasty” and that it was clear his actions were criminal.
“But it was shocking to me the way Ryan acted. I can’t even watch that whole video. I went outside while it was going on.”
Since the Putt incident there have been dozens of other Creep Catchers videos posted live online, often with mistaken identities, sometimes of individuals who are mentally challenged, and always shaming and bullying, even assaulting men who are at most alleged to have responded to entrapment by Laforge and his acolytes.
The basic methods of the so-called “pedo hunters” is simple. They create fake profiles of 18-year-olds on websites like Craigslist of Grindr, then when a man starts chatting with them, the bait is switched and the age becomes 15 or 14 or even 12. Then they arrange a meeting, confront the individual with live videos streamed online.
“There are a bunch of laws being broken.”
That’s from Craig Jones, lawyer and law professor at Thompson Rivers University.
“This is entertainment-driven law enforcement by people who have no idea what the law is,” Jones said in a recent interview. “They have no education in even a related field like psychology. They don’t even know what a pedophile is.”
Bullon was involved in the Fraser Valley chapter of the Creep Catchers and she was there when Don Putt was busted for child luring. She is now one among many who have dared to question Laforge’s methods and who has been publicly “blasted” and shunned by Laforge.
Bullon still thinks there is something noble in this vigilantism, but she wants it done correctly. Bullon’s technique is to go online using the same bait-and-switch technique. She then pretends to be 12 or 13 years old giving the man an opportunity to walk away.
“Ultimately that’s what we want them to do,” she says. “We want them to change their ways.”
Where Laforge will pretend to be a 13-year-old girl and blatantly promise sexual acts to a man online, Bullon lets the men do the luring.
“I wait for them to say they want to meet me. I’ll let them choose a place. I just follow along. I don’t lure anybody, I’ll let them lure me.”
Bullon does her online vigilantism under the moniker Block Guardians now. So why have you heard of Creep Catchers and not Block Guardians? Because she doesn’t use the entertainment-style shaming like Laforge.
“You don’t see them because they are not doing the online blasting,” Jones said of Bullon and other splinter groups trying to do this work within the law. “I more or less leave those people alone.”
“Ultimately we want these guys to get help and we do work with the police,” Bullon says. “I go home at the end of the night knowing that he lured me out, that he’s a predator.”
Laforge and the Surrey Creep Catchers, on the other hand, are increasingly getting the wrong kind of attention from critics like Jones and Sean Smith, a social media educator, who created The Truth About Creep Catchers.
Laforge is in a pile of trouble, little of which he seems to recognize or understand. The Office of the Information and Privacy Commission for British Columbia ordered Laforge to take videos down.
“I told them to go f—k themselves,” Laforge said in an online interview with the Surrey Now-Leader.
He’s also been charged with two counts of assault and one count of uttering threats related to his “stings” in April.
Then there are the lawsuits for defamation.
When asked to comment on this story Laforge did not respond directly but this reporter received a two-word message from the Surrey Creep Catchers via Facebook: “F—k off.”
• See Part Two in this series on the problem with Creep Catchers and more from lawyer Craig Jones next week.
– with files from the Surrey Now-Leader