The president of Surrey Creep Catchers, a controversial vigilante group that says it exposes child predators, is being sued for defamation for the second time in a month.
Sean Smith, a 48-year-old social media consultant and educator from Campbell River, says that he was targeted by the group after he criticized it in a video posted to Facebook in early December.
In the video, Smith did not specifically refer to Surrey Creep Catchers or its president, Ryan LaForge.
He alleges that after posting the video, LaForge published a number of posts to the Surrey Creep Catchers Facebook page, usually dedicated to "outing" people identified through the group's sting operations.
According to court documents filed in B.C. Supreme Court, the posts refer to Smith as a "pedophile," as well as a "goof" and "skinner" — prison slang used to refer to child predators.
"LaForge suggested the plaintiff would be revealed as a child sexual predator through a Creep Catcher 'sting' operation," read the documents.
"The defamatory posts were false and were made deliberately and maliciously by LaForge knowing them to be untrue or with reckless disregard for their falsity."
Later, LaForge published posts apologizing for referring to Smith as a pedophile but did not remove the original posts.
In December, 11,000 people followed Surrey Creep Catcher's Facebook page. That number has since risen to over 16,000 people.
In late February, an Abbotsford man filed a defamation suit against LaForge, saying his group falsely accused him of trying to procure sex from a minor.
Business, family singled out
Smith said he first heard in October of the group's operations, which involve "outing" individuals it believes to be child predators in public places.
This prompted him to start a Facebook page titled "Truth About Creep Catchers," which he used to publish videos critiquing the group's techniques.
"They were doing stuff that I teach in high schools and middle schools, everything that is wrong about social media, using it as a tool to shame people and incite mobs and incite bullying. I just couldn't believe what I was looking at," he said.
Smith said he initially ignored LaForge's posts, until he started a hashtag campaign that drew hundreds of comments attacking his business and identifying his family's private Facebook accounts.
"I feel like I'm living in the 21st century version of a 17th century witchhunt," he said.
The court documents also list defendants John Doe #1 through #10 and Jane Doe #1 to #10, described as "members and/or supporters of Surrey Creep Catchers who rebroadcast defamatory statements."
Smith said these individuals were included in the filing to send a message to the "mobs of trolls" engaging with the group online.
"If you come online as part of the conversation saying defamatory things, you're going to be named in this suit as well," he said.
In an email, Ryan LaForge wrote: "I never said Sean Smith is a pedophile. I said he's a pedophile supporter. His actions prove it."
When asked about that response, Smith said LaForge's Dec.7 Facebook post on his website speaks for itself.
LaForge has yet to file a statement of defence.
None of the allegations contained in Smith's lawsuit have been proven in court.
With files from Tanya Fletcher