Posted on: August 10, 2017
A TRU Law professor’s efforts have resulted in an order from the BC Privacy Commission against the actions of a controversial pedophile-hunting vigilante group in British Columbia.
“It’s the first decision of its kind anywhere in the world,” said TRU Law faculty member Craig Jones, QC, referring to a late July ruling in which BC’s privacy watchdog, Acting Privacy Commissioner Drew McArthur, ordered the Surrey Creep Catchers to remove and destroy all videos pertaining to two complainants.
His November 2016 submission focussed on the fact the the vigilante group was not acting under any authority to collect, use or disclose the complainants’ personal information, rather that they were using individuals’ private information only to name and shame those caught up in their homegrown sting operations.
The Privacy Commission’s recent order distinguishes this type of citizen activity from objective and balanced investigative or journalistic action, a distinction that garnered Jones’ interest in the first place when he learned about the group’s behavior last year.
“I was really concerned about these vigilante groups when I read about them last summer,” said Jones.
“It was obvious to me that, while they were certainly ensnaring some child predators, they were also capturing those who were completely innocent of wrongdoing.”
Subsequently, Jones wrote an Op-Ed in the Vancouver Sun last September, outlining the example of a young man who had agreed to meet a woman platonically for coffee, even though ‘she’ revealed she was just fifteen years old. When he went to meet the ‘girl’ in broad daylight in a mall, the man was ambushed with cameras and accused of being a child predator.
“It was an obvious ploy to entrap him and build a fictitious case against him,” said Jones.
The young man in question contacted Jones after reading the Vancouver Sun article, and Jones agreed to represent him pro bono. He also used it as a teaching opportunity, enlisting the help of students in his Torts and Advanced Advocacy classes.
“I would give them the facts, ask them what to do. We’d bat it around in class and afterwards. It wasn’t long before we had our law students crawling all over their public Facebook groups, recording information, documenting their moves,” explained Jones.
“It wasn’t an official part of the curriculum, but it’s great when class discussions actually have some relevance in the real world. They want to feel like they’re involved. And they were.”
It was collectively decided that the centerpiece of the legal effort would be to take a complaint to the Privacy Commission. Jones’ client became ‘Complainant #1’ and the eight-month process began.
On July 24, 2017, Acting Privacy Commissioner McArthur declared in his ruling that the methods used by the Creep Catchers, including placing ‘bait and switch’ ads on adults-only sites in the hopes of ensnaring respondents who are trying to lure children, were illegal under the Personal Information Protection Act.
Jones says he is happy with the response.
“It was obvious early on that they were taking the complaint very seriously, and that they would thoroughly review it and give careful consideration to our submissions.”
The president of the Surrey Creep Catchers says he will defy the order; meanwhile, Jones says he will be following the developments as they unfold into what he calls the enforcement phase.