Citizen's arrests by Creep Catchers might not be legal, criminologist says
Published Tuesday, April 18, 2017 6:11PM PDT
Members of the Surrey Creep Catchers are increasingly getting physical with the targets of their stings, but their justification might not offer the legal protection they think it does.
On Monday, Ryan LaForge, the founder of the online vigilante group, was recorded using force to apprehend two different men in Surrey then Vancouver.
During the latter incident, LaForge appeared to throw a man to the ground while waiting for police to arrive at the scene. In both incidents, he described his actions as a "citizen's arrest."
But Rob Gordon, a criminology professor at Simon Fraser University, said he doesn’t believe the Criminal Code provisions for such arrests actually apply to the Creep Catchers' activities.
"I don't think it does, quite frankly," Gordon said. "They're probably using excessive force."
Gordon said the citizen's arrest provisions were designed to let ordinary people apprehend suspects who were caught in the middle of a crime – stealing a bike, for example – or fleeing from an actual police officer.
But the Creep Catchers' methods, which often involve a bait-and-switch where the target initially believes he's texting with an adult, can potentially put their stings in a legal grey area.
"You don't see what has gone on beforehand. There's been a lot of luring taking place," Gordon said. "Exactly how they're encouraging these people to meet up with them and to profess an interest in having sex with underage children is hard to discern."
The majority of the online vigilante group's stings have not resulted in criminal charges, but several have, and so far at least one of those has led to a conviction.
One sting, conducted two weeks ago at Central City Shopping Centre in Surrey, also resulted in LaForge being arrested. He was filmed pushing a target against a wall and yelling obscenities at him.
LaForge was released from custody on a promise to appear in court, and he later announced on social media that he was facing an assault charge.
He declined to speak with CTV News this week.
Gordon said the founder and all the other Surrey Creep Catchers members should quit while they're ahead.
"I can understand the emotion behind [what they’re doing], but people who are playing cops really need to be very careful," the professor said.
"If he's that keen he should be forming an alliance with the police and engaging in some kind of activity [such as] a citizen's patrol on the internet."
But if they continue heading on the path they're on, someone – either a vigilante or a target – is going to end up hurt, he added.
"There's going to be some seriously injured people here fairly soon," Gordon said.
Interestingly, the Surrey RCMP detachment said LaForge contacted officers prior to the confrontation that ended in his arrest earlier this month. That Creep Catchers sting, which occurred April 3, also resulted in the arrest of a Burnaby real estate agent, who is facing child luring charges.
"No specifics were provided and any confrontation was discouraged by Surrey RCMP," Cpl. Scotty Schumann said in an email statement.
"Surrey RCMP advised, as we have in the past, that if there is any information and/or evidence available, that the matter needed to be reported in order for it to be investigated by police."
It’s unclear whether the target of that sting was arrested after officers arrived at the scene, and the RCMP would not confirm any details of its response other than to say an investigation is underway.
RCMP did say a man was arrested on Monday, but did not say who it was. They said he was released pending an investigation.
Vancouver police have not confirmed whether any arrests were made in relation to the incident near Joyce Station, but video from the scene appeared to show the target of the Creep Catchers sting wearing handcuffs.
With files from CTV Vancouver's David Molko