Two Penticton men are taking to the streets to expose alleged sexual predators online, prompting a cautionary response from the RCMP.
Mitchell Shelswell, 27, and Tyler Fritsen, 30, are part of the Creep Catcher movement which has them posing as 14-year-old girls on online dating sites and getting men to agree to meet up in public.
Shelswell met creepcatcher.ca founder, Dawson Raymond of Calgary, six months ago when he wanted to get involved, opening up a chapter in Penticton. The two shared some beers in Calgary and quickly became friends.
Shelswell, who works as a pipeliner in Alberta, moved back to Penticton and opened a chapter. The organization has chapters Canada-wide in Victoria, Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon and St. John, NB. The website for the organization state all persons portrayed are considered innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.
“There’s a lot of crime in this city, a lot of drugs, stuff like that, and unfortunately a lot of gentlemen who are willing to meet up with underaged women for sex,” Shelswell said.
The two created online personas, consensually using photos of young-looking women. They never initiate a conversation.
“Men initiate the conversation with me because they see the pic(ture) and guys are just sick,” Fritsen said. “In the first three sentences I tell them I’m 14 and most of them say ‘oh, well I’m not going to talk to you,’ they block me, report me. And there’s some that are like ‘oh, well do you like older men? Have you ever had sex?’ It’s like … jeez.”
The duo, along with two other friends, plan a meet up and film the interaction, posting the videos and messages online. The goal, they say, isn’t to start an altercation, gather evidence or to lay charges — rather it is a “preventative measure.”
They met up with one “creep” at the 24/7 convenience store on May 27, and another just outside Penticton Secondary School.
“I’m shaking when I’m standing there asking these guys questions because in my head I want to beat them up, but I know Creep Catcher doesn’t want to promote violence, we’re just here to expose these guys,” Fritsen said.
“I was definitely nervous (the first time) and even though you’re holding the camera you’ve got to get right up in his face, so you can get him on there,” Shelswell said. “Not so much nervous anymore after you get a second one.”
The two are not particularly worried about their safety while confronting strangers, bringing along two other friends, mixed martial arts fighters, they find strength in numbers.
“We work as a crew here,” Fritsen said.
They have not been contacted by the police, but have heard the local police response reported in local media that their actions can possible interfere with investigations.
“They don’t investigate until a child has been touched,” Fritsen said. “We’re just trying to do some preventative measures here.”
However, Cpl. Dan Moskaluk with the Penticton RCMP is urging caution.
“The RCMP does not condone vigilantism and certainly would recommend the public to leave investigations to the police. When you have incidents of this nature occur we’re always concerned when people decide to bypass law enforcement efforts and take the law into their own hands,” Cpl. Dan Moskaluk with the Penticton RCMP said. “When that happens there is always a risk an investigation could be jeopardized and key evidence could be lost.”
The RCMP does not condone or recommend the actions of Creep Catcher chapters, Moskaluk said, adding there is a risk to personal safety and the public’s safety as well. “We do have an online presence, in this day and age all police services have specialized units that monitor online activity with respect to youth exploitation and sexual exploitation of individuals,” Moskaluk said. “This work really should be left to police officers to conduct the work in the controlled environment.”
He recommend those looking to help visit cybertip.ca or reporting to police services any suspected child exploitation online.
“If you have information that would assist in an investigation or you have suspicions about an individual, by all means simply contact the RCMP. The route that is being taking here with the current practices and online with social media sites is a different kettle of fish and in all likelihood will more hamper an investigation than assist it.”