Canada police arrest ‘pedophile hunting’ group over child abuse images

<span>Photograph: Evan Buhler/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Evan Buhler/Reuters

Police in Canada have arrested members of a vigilante “pedophile-hunting” group, charging them with distribution of child abuse images, amid frustration over the group’s controversial tactics.

Quebec police announced on Thursday that six people had been arrested as part of an investigation into a group that had drawn complaints from the public.

Five of the suspects, all in their mid-to-late 20s, face charges of distributing the images, with some also charged with criminal harassment, intimidation and forcible confinement.

A sixth person, a 40-year-old man, faces criminal harassment, intimidation and forcible confinement charges.

Police in the city of Gatineau say members of the group who were involved in the “hunt” would film their meetings with alleged pedophiles after contacting them online, posting the clips widely on social media.

But in order to lure people, the group used sexually explicit photos, faked to give the appearance that the subjects were underage.

“There were exchanges of photos during conversations [online] and what the law says, when you share a photo, that it is explicit pornographic material and that you claim that it represents a person of age minor, even if it really isn’t, it becomes child pornography,” constable Andrée East told the Canadian Press. “It’s considered as such, even if in truth it doesn’t really represent the body of a minor person.”

For more than a decade, Quebec police have been pleading with the vigilante groups to stop their “hunts”. In January, after receiving multiple complaints, the police issued a release again warning people against involving themselves with “cyberpredator hunters” in the region.

None of those targeted by the group have been charged by police.

Law enforcement agencies across the country continue to grapple with the proliferation of online vigilante groups that attempt to catch pedophiles.

One investigation found the group ensnared innocent people by manipulating chats and messages to give the appearance of impropriety.

One group, Creep Catchers, has long frustrated police for their methods, which at times have interfered in police investigations and come with tragic consequences.

In 2016, a woman in Alberta took her life months after she was confronted by the group.

In 2017, police arrested the head of the Surrey Creep Catchers, Ryan LaForge, on an outstanding warrant as he attempted to arrest someone he claimed was a pedophile.

That same year, Quebec police arrested William Drapeau in Sherbrooke after he tried setting up fake sexual encounters.

In addition to the charges announced on Thursday in Quebec, officers seized digital materials and found a firearm that was stored improperly.

“In no case can a person take justice into their own hands, even if they are the victim of a crime, whatever it may be,” the police said in a statement.