A Campbell River man is suing the head of Surrey Creep Catchers for defamation after he was wrongfully accused of being a pedophile in social media posts.
Sean Smith, a 48-year-old father, husband and social media educator, posted a video criticizing the controversial vigilante group’s practices on Dec. 7, 2016. Within hours, he faced a barrage of abusive comments suggesting he was a pedophile.
According to a statement of claim filed on Thursday, Ryan LaForge, the president of Surrey Creep Catchers, called Smith a “pedo” and suggested he would be revealed as a child sexual predator following a sting operation.
On Dec. 8, a photo of Smith was posted on the Surrey Creep Catcher Facebook page superimposed with the words: “What’s a pedo even look like? Oh yeah, this guy” and “I love the smell … of kids in the morning.”
The comments under the posts label Smith a “pedophile,” as well as a “goof” and “skinner” — prison slang for sexual predators.
Smith, who is a social media consultant and does presentations at schools under the name Social Media Guy, said the false allegations against him have damaged his reputation and his business.
He is suing LaForge and 20 unnamed people for defamation, seeking damages and a public retraction.
LaForge has not filed a statement of defence and did not respond to requests for comment.
None of the allegations has been proven in court.
In an interview, Smith said he has faced a steady stream of death threats from supporters of Surrey Creep Catchers and that some have even gone after his family. One person sent messages to his wife saying: “You’re married to a pedophile supporter.”
Smith said LaForge posted an apology but it has since been deleted. The photo of Smith has not been taken down and is clearly visible on the group’s Facebook page, which has 17,000 followers.
Creep Catchers, which has chapters all over the country, tries to trap sexual predators by posing as underage girls and boys and then posting videos of the confrontation online.
However, members of the group have wrongfully accused people and broadcast videos of people who later killed themselves.
Police have advised against this type of vigilante justice and said it can get in the way of their investigations.
“What we’re looking at is a group of people who have gathered suspect evidence, with no training, no education, no qualifications in investigative technique or evidence gathering, a tenuous grasp of the Canadian laws and Criminal Code, openly accusing individuals who they’ve trapped,” Smith said.
“It’s online bullying, cyberbullying, defamatory content, accusing people of things that are not based on any solid evidence.”
He said he hopes his court case will set a precedent that people who are victims of cyberbullying have legal recourse.