Vigilante Justice Isn't the Answer in Calgary or Anywhere Else

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Vigilante Justice Isn't the Answer in Calgary or Anywhere Else

Warning: this is my second post in as many weeks where I profess my agreement with a law enforcement agency. Readers who are easily shocked or disturbed by such apparent changes in character are advised to stop now and pretend this never happened.

I'm always a little surprised when I find myself agreeing with the police, whether it's the Calgary Police Service—my favourite target, for the simple reason that Calgary is the city where I live and practice my profession as a criminal defence lawyer—the RCMP, or some other local or national police force. This week, it's Medicine Hat Police Service that made headlines that forced me to give a nod of approval, but it's a story that started right here in Stampede City.

Apparently there's a new "trend" (though when I hear police use the word "trend," I have to wonder if they mean something more substantial than three isolated incidents over the course of a year) that's been dubbed "catch a creep." Supposedly started by a Calgary-area man who has also trained others in the vigilante arts, this "creep catching" is a process where adults (primarily men) pose as underage females on social media, lure other men into meetings, and then take pictures/videos of the targets to post publicly as a way to "out" them as sexual predators.

The police in Medicine Hat don't like it, and frankly neither do I.

The impulse for vigilantism is obvious, just as it always has been. The idea that you can go out and identify a bad guy and force him or her to face some kind of justice resonates with all of us. The problem is, our subjective "justice meters" have been shown to be notoriously bad, and we're known for sticking to our opinions about guilt or innocence—and good or evil—even after evidence has stacked up to prove us wrong.

In the case of "catch a creep" enthusiasts, they can go to great lengths to convince men to meet, sharing pictures of girls that are presumably of legal age (otherwise the vigilantes themselves could be charged with possession of child pornography) and engaging in lengthy conversations that might easily convince a target that the person they're talking to is older than they say they are. In other words, there's a fair amount of reasonable doubt that the men agreeing to meet really think they're meeting someone underage.

And of course, meeting someone underage isn't a crime. The behavior might be distasteful, disgusting, or even enraging, but it isn't criminal, and the argument that such behavior indicates a crime might be committed is moot: we don't arrest people because we think they'd be willing to commit a crime.

Individual human beings are bad at determining guilt and dispensing justice, period. That's why we've spent centuries developing a criminal justice system that's supposed to treat everyone fairly, and while I'm the first to admit that the system has problems, they won't be fixed by vigilante justice.

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