In The Media

'Canada Creep' case highlights the darker side of social media

by Valerie Fortney (feat. Tom Keenan)

Calgary Herald
June 15, 2017

The woman who offers this endorsement won’t tell me how she is connected to Jeffrey Robert Williamson, other than that she knows him. On Thursday morning, she sits in a courtroom gallery mostly empty but for the group of journalists from nearly every media outlet in town.

Together, we spend several hours waiting for the first court appearance of the 42-year-old Calgary man who is facing six charges related to voyeurism and publishing voyeuristic images.

Despite the delays and frequent breaks, none of the journalists rush off. That’s no surprise, considering the widespread attention — from national news outlets to the British Broadcasting Corp. — that the Twitter handle Canada Creep, which Williamson is accused of being behind, has generated over the past 48 hours.

According to Calgary police, Williamson, whose Facebook profile photo shows him hugging a young girl, has for the past year been running the Twitter account that features photos and videos of women clothed and out in public, the camera often focused on their breasts, buttocks and other womanly parts, complete with lewd captions and comments.

From those images and videos, it’s clear that the subjects — photographed mostly in the city’s downtown — weren’t aware they were being followed or recorded. Some of what was documented and shared on the Internet are alleged to be of the “up-skirt” variety, a term used for photographing up a woman’s skirt without her knowledge.

That’s where the actions go from repugnant to ones that could find someone before a judge. Combine that with the fact that at least one of the complainants is reportedly under age, and you’re potentially in a whole lot of trouble.

“It’s a funny grey area, this taking of photos,” Tom Keenan, a University of Calgary professor and technology expert, tells me by telephone during one of Thursday’s many court breaks. “A woman could possibly sue in civil court, but once you go up the skirt it becomes a criminal matter.”

Keenan says that the ease of the Internet has made more than a few people forget that what they do on social media might have legal ramifications.

“Law enforcement is doing a good job of finally catching up, thanks partly to the public’s help.”

That’s a good thing, because while voyeurism is an offence that’s been around a long time, this 21st century version takes it to a whole new violating level thanks to social media.

According to reports, before it was shut down earlier this week, Canada Creep had been operating on Twitter for a full year and had more than 17,000 followers. Even on Thursday afternoon, I could find many of the images it disseminated on a host of other similar Twitter handles, all of them dedicated to violating the privacy of and objectifying women.

Those purveyors of creep, though, are facing a new threat: an increasingly vigilant public on social media, many of whom are becoming better educated at knowing what crosses the line into criminal behaviour and should be reported to police.

“I have learned more in the past two days about these guys than I ever imagined,” says one of the duo behind the Twitter handle Crackmacs, a local couple who were alerted to the Canada Creep account and then called upon their more than 23,000 followers to call Calgary police if they had any information. “There are websites that even instruct people how to do this without being arrested.”

After hours of a usual sad day of court appearances — most of the accused on the docket suffer from alcohol and drug addiction, mental-health issues and homelessness — Williamson finally makes his brief appearance, via CCTV from the Remand Centre.

Dressed in blue prison coveralls, Williamson listens silently to the judge’s many conditions of release before his next appearance in July, which includes a ban on him possessing and using the Internet, social media and any devices that record images or audio.

After court, the one other courtroom spectator besides the accused man’s lone supporter is approached by media.

“Oh, no, I don’t know him at all,” she says with a smile about Williamson. “I just thought it was appropriate, you know, to show up and watch him.”

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