WARNING: This story contains disturbing details that may be upsetting for some readers.
Ian Fidler left the manager’s office in disbelief.
He had just ensnared a co-worker in a scheme to expose local child predators. There was a video of the “catch”: A man showing up at a fast-food restaurant to allegedly meet a 13-year-old he thought he’d been chatting with online.
But instead of promising to review the evidence, or even thank him, the manager at the nuclear facility in Chalk River, Ont., told Fidler he was disrupting the workplace.
Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL), where Fidler is part of the elite security force, houses some of the most dangerous materials in the world. Fidler believed that the man was now vulnerable to blackmail, compromising his security clearance. He felt he had a duty to report what he knew.
Fidler, a father of two young girls and president of his union at CNL, was proud to have helped identify a possible threat to his tight-knit community.
And he knew it wasn’t the first time CNL had been confronted with these kinds of disturbing allegations. In the past year, Fidler’s friend at the company, Dave McEvoy, had exposed two other co-workers as suspected child predators. A so-called “creep catcher,” McEvoy used controversial tactics to nab adults who troll online for kids. It was McEvoy who orchestrated the latest sting and brought Fidler along.
By the time Fidler and McEvoy sat down with the company’s ethics manager, Dan Sullivan, word of the sting had reached senior management. The bosses weren’t happy. Sullivan told them the company didn’t consider it appropriate to investigate the allegations the two men had brought forward.
Fidler was hurt and disgusted.
“Rather than investigating the (alleged) pedophile, I realized that the company was going to be coming after us,” Fidler said in an interview. “It was shocking.”
Sullivan decided to start an investigation into Fidler and McEvoy the next day.
In the months that followed, CNL became embroiled in an emotional and ugly labour battle that pitted concerns about child endangerment against the company’s priorities. Sullivan’s probe would conclude that Fidler and McEvoy harassed and bullied the employee, because they confronted him and told co-workers what they’d done. Fidler was suspended without pay for the longest period anyone at the company could remember. McEvoy was fired.
Fidler’s union fought back. The video of the confrontation with the CNL employee in February 2019 was entered into evidence at the labour arbitration.
An arbitrator would later conclude that the footage “leaves little doubt” that the man “believed he was attending for the purposes of engaging in a sexual act” with a 13-year-old boy.
Months later, Fidler said he remains fearful of reprisal from CNL. He agreed to speak to the Star only about the matters made public during the arbitration, to shine light on the issue of child endangerment.
CNL did not directly answer questions about many aspects of this case. A spokesperson said CNL’s security protocols weren’t compromised and that the company takes seriously the safety of its employees, the community and allegations of criminal activity.
This story is not a referendum on the controversial tactics citizens use to ensnare suspected child predators or the allegations against the CNL employee that was confronted in this case.
It is a story of two men who said they were trying to do the right thing, only to be told they were doing it all wrong.
The “catch” took place on a frigid Friday evening in February, at a combination Harvey’s-Swiss Chalet in Petawawa, a short drive south on the TransCanada Highway from Chalk River.
Fidler had never done anything like this before. He was there to support McEvoy, an utility worker in CNL’s site transition department, who spent much of his spare time exposing suspected child predators in the Ottawa Valley under the pseudonym “Valley Guardian.”
McEvoy started “creep catching” a few years earlier, after a friend’s child was targeted by a suspected online predator, he said. He researched online and was sickened by what seemed to him to be a scary number of adults trolling on dating apps and chat rooms for underage boys and girls. He worried that the issue wasn’t getting the attention it deserved and that law enforcement wasn’t doing enough.
There are other creep catcher groups in Eastern Ontario, but McEvoy struck out on his own. First, he set up fake online profiles on dating apps. He used profile pictures of young adults. If the site required it, he would claim to be over 18. Then, at some point in the conversation, he would say that he was actually 13. (The age of consent in Canada is 16.)
McEvoy told the Star he never initiated contact with anyone. If an adult asked to meet in person, he confronted them in a public place and recorded the encounter on his cellphone.
“They’d go thinking they were meeting a little kid, and they’d be meeting me instead,” he said. “They would either take off and deny stuff, or some of them would stay and talk and try to explain their way out of things. I was just making sure that they were exposed.”
Then he posted the cellphone footage online.
McEvoy said most of his confrontations were “calm and civil.”
“I would never get physical or threaten them in any way. I would never detain them,” he said. “I would never take the law into my own hands.”
Police say they don’t like creep catching. It’s vigilante justice that compromises police investigations, incites violence against suspected predators and can brand innocent people as pedophiles, they say.
Det. Staff Sgt. Sharon Hanlon, with the Ontario Provincial Police’s child sexual exploitation unit, confirmed McEvoy has shared information about alleged child predators. She declined to comment on specific cases but said that the OPP has laid charges in “creep catcher cases in the past.”
The lawyer for a man convicted of child luring last year said evidence McEvoy provided to police led to his client’s arrest. McEvoy confronted the man, a repeat offender, at a Tim Hortons in Petawawa in 2018. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a year in jail. (The man was not among the CNL employees McEvoy confronted.)
On that cold night in February 2019, McEvoy told Fidler that he was planning to confront another adult that had been chatting him up, trying to procure sex with a child. McEvoy told the Star he didn’t recognize the man, who said he was a CNL employee. (The Star has not reviewed the messages McEvoy exchanged with the man before confronting him.)
Fidler and McEvoy met on the job a few months earlier. Fidler had heard about the confrontations. He shared McEvoy’s concerns about child-luring. McEvoy, he told the Star, struck him as a decent guy with honest intentions.
“I offered to help him out … if he was afraid or wanted someone else there with him, in case things went bad,” Fidler said.
The CNL employee they confronted at the Harvey’s-Swiss Chalet that evening is identified in the arbitration decision as “Mr. X.” He has not been charged with a crime as far as the Star could find.
The video of the confrontation, which McEvoy captured on his cellphone, was played during the arbitration. They stop at a table near the window. Mr. X is sitting alone.
McEvoy introduces himself as “Valley Guardian,” and asks, “How old is the boy you are coming to have sex with?”
“Pardon?” Mr. X replies, looking around anxiously.
“You’re coming to have sex with a 13-year-old boy. Do you want to go outside and chat? I’ve got all the chat logs. I’ve got recorded messages from you. So what do you want to do? Do you want to explain yourself?”
McEvoy and Fidler trail him outside into the parking lot. He turns around to face the camera.
“Just so you know, you’re not in any physical danger,” McEvoy says.
The man on camera stands there, his eyes often downcast, as McEvoy explains that there was no 13-year-old boy and coolly recounts choice snippets from their exchanges.
Mr. X says he felt pressured, that he had been uncomfortable with some of the discussions. But he does not challenge McEvoy when he says that Mr. X thought he had been chatting with an underage boy and that he was planning to take him home for a sleepover that night.
Mr. X says he’s sorry, and asks what the consequences will be.
“You’re going to be uploaded to the Internet, to a very popular website,” McEvoy says, before Mr. X gets into his car. “The consequences are, we’re going to spread awareness.”
Fidler watched the eight-minute-long confrontation in silence, his heart pounding. He was stunned by the response of Mr. X. He thought about the children in the Ottawa Valley, and felt relieved to have played a role in helping to keep them safe.
“We kind of congratulated ourselves, gave ourselves a pat on the back,” he said.
When he returned to work on Monday morning, Fidler called Sullivan, CNL’s ethics manager, but Sullivan was already aware that another suspected child predator at CNL had been ensnared. And, this time, the arbitrator later wrote in her decision, Sullivan was under pressure to contain the disruption the exposure might cause.
CNL’s Chalk River site is a sprawling, restricted-access campus on the banks of the Ottawa River. Formerly a leading producer of medical isotopes, the Chalk River site is federally owned, and operated by a consortium of private companies, whose biggest shareholder is SNC-Lavalin.
Chalk River’s nuclear history dates back to the end of the Second World War, when the first nuclear reactor outside of the U.S. went online there. Much of the work is now focused on developing nuclear technology and safely disposing hazardous materials from the National Research Universal (NRU) Reactor, which was shut down 2018 and is now being decommissioned. Highly trained, heavily armed security guards provide round-the-clock surveillance.
The arbitrator would later describe it as “a workplace in which strict attention to duty is imperative.”
“Disruptions and distractions must be avoided.”
The video of McEvoy’s first confrontation with a CNL employee whipped around Chalk River in the summer of 2018. The arbitrator described it as “sensational.” She noted that it was viewed more than 500,000 times.
“At least one employee came to Sullivan and questioned why the alleged perpetrator was still working at CNL,” the arbitrator observed. “That person confessed that he did not think he could control himself if he saw the alleged perpetrator and felt that he might punch him.”
A few months later there was a second incident, involving another CNL employee, who was exposed as a suspected child predator in a confrontation with McEvoy.
Unlike some creep catchers, McEvoy tried to keep a low profile. He did not identify himself online or as the narrator of the videos he posted. But he said he told Sullivan about the work he was doing as the “Valley Guardian.” He said he reported both of the ensnared CNL employees to Sullivan before posting videos of the confrontations online.
McEvoy said he doesn’t know what CNL did with the information he provided. He assumed that Sullivan, as the head of ethics, would have had an “obligation to investigate.” McEvoy said he handed over the evidence he gathered in both cases to the OPP.
Pat Quinn, the CNL spokesperson, did not say whether the company investigated the allegations against the two employees, or whether they still work for CNL. In response to questions the Star sent to Sullivan for this story, Quinn said, “CNL is not supportive of interest group investigations outside of the law.”
“In Mr. Sullivan’s interactions, he has been clear that specific concerns should be brought to the proper authorities, law enforcement,” Quinn said.
McEvoy said his conversations with Sullivan prior to posting the videos in 2018 left him with the impression that CNL was “supportive” of the work he was doing to expose suspected child predators. He said it seemed the company “appreciated me going and contacting the ethics department, and letting them know there was a video coming out.”
At the hearing, Sullivan testified that he told McEvoy that he “supported the agenda to protect children in the community,” but urged him to “keep this out of the workplace,” the arbitrator wrote.
The top brass at CNL saw it differently, according to the arbitrator. Senior management felt “blindsided on the issue and feared corporate embarrassment” and invested “considerable discussion time in considering how to prevent future issues,” the arbitrator said in her decision. Sullivan was reprimanded.
In February 2019, with a sting snaring a third CNL employee — Mr. X — as a suspected child predator, the heat was on. Sullivan’s boss sent him an email, saying that “another creep was caught.”
McEvoy was waiting to put the video online because he wanted to give the company a heads up. “He’s waiting to do the right thing by his employer, which is good,” Sullivan told his boss.
Fidler and McEvoy met with Sullivan later that week, on Feb. 28. That same day, Fidler reported the confrontation with Mr. X to CNL’s investigator and intelligence analyst, to look into whether Mr. X had compromised his security clearance.
While CNL says it cooperates with any police investigation, it is “not aware of any investigations” into these allegations, a spokesperson said.
The OPP’s Hanlon emphasized the threshold for laying a charge is “reasonable, probable grounds to believe an offence has been committed.” She cautioned against drawing conclusions about an alleged child predator, based on footage of a creep catch.
“It’s dangerous to take a (video) clip, or any aspect of an interaction with a person and say, ‘OK, he’s guilty of child sexual exploitation, because he didn’t deny it,’” she said. “We look at the entirety of the case.”
At the hearing, Sullivan said CNL did not investigate Mr. X. He characterized creep catchers as a “vigilante group” that “operates a public shaming spectacle, potentially jeopardizing police work on the case,” adding that “if CNL acted in support of them, they could be sued.” He said the company “does not investigate that which does not occur at the workplace.”
As talk of the video spread through the Chalk River site, Sullivan told the arbitrator that his opinion changed as to whether Fidler and McEvoy’s actions were “off-duty conduct.” He started to investigate the creep catchers.
McEvoy didn’t post the video online. Before he and Fidler reported Mr. X to Sullivan on Feb. 28, Fidler showed snippets to a few of his shift-mates on the security team. At the hearing, Fidler testified that he was trying “to help them protect their children.”
Sullivan alleged Fidler’s motivations were less pure. In mid-March, he sent an email to Fidler saying there was “a concern” that Fidler may have “shown a video in the workplace to other CNL employees,” that it “depicted another CNL employee in an embarrassing, demeaning and humiliating manner” and that Fidler had made “humiliating” comments about Mr. X.
In the email, he said he was trying to determine whether Fidler had breached the company’s code of conduct and harassment prevention policies. He told him to prepare for an interview and warned of possible disciplinary action.
Fidler was a wreck. In his seven years at CNL, he had never been disciplined. As the founder and head of his union, he advocated fiercely for his members. Now he was lying awake at night, fearing he would be fired for doing what he believed to be a public service.
Sullivan urged Fidler in an email to “reconsider” the “disruptive impact” that creep catching was “having on our business.”
“CNL has been experiencing a significant amount of disruption and churn, as we try to wrestle with how we run a business with a respectful workplace after employees get publically (sic) shamed as a ‘child predator,’ ” Sullivan wrote.
In early April, Fidler was suspended without pay for 132 hours — almost a month.
CNL concluded that showing the video to co-workers at work and reporting to CNL’s security investigator his concerns the man had violated his security clearance was a “serious breach” of the company’s code of conduct and its workplace harassment policy. The company said that Fidler hadn’t been cooperative during the investigation, that he didn’t admit showing the video to co-workers a second time.
“Through your own actions, you made the fact and details of the confrontation…a workplace issue, which the company must now address,” the discipline letter states.
McEvoy received a disciplinary letter from CNL the same day. Although he had accepted a permanent job at CNL, he was still on probation at the time. Like Fidler, the company found he had breached CNL’s code of conduct and workplace harassment policy, and told him he was being fired “for cause.”
At CNL, tensions continued to rise. Fidler’s union grieved his discipline. His previously good relationship with Sullivan fell apart.
The labour arbitration stretched out for more than a year. There were 10 days of hearings, in person and then over Zoom, from November 2019 to December 2020.
In January, the arbitrator, Elaine Newman, dismissed the misconduct allegations related to Fidler’s reporting of Mr. X to CNL, and significantly reduced his suspension. (McEvoy is represented by a different union. His grievance was not part of Fidler’s arbitration.)
In bringing forward his concerns, Newman found, Fidler “honestly believed” this employee “was guilty of trying to solicit sex with a minor, an illegal act” and “felt under an obligation, and in the best interests of the company, to report what he considered to be a potential security violation.”
Newman found that Fidler violated CNL’s workplace harassment policy by showing the video to co-workers, and that Fidler had been dishonest during the company’s investigation, in particular, during an emotionally charged meeting with Sullivan, when he failed to disclose that he’d shown the video not once but twice, and claimed not to know the real name of Mr. X.
However, Newman also found the company came down too hard on Fidler, who was given no reason to believe that participating in the confrontation and showing the video at work would put him at odds with CNL. She called the penalty “excessive.”
Newman acknowledged the fraught issue facing CNL. “The matter presents a considerable public relations challenge—one does not want to be seen as sympathizing with pedophiles, but at the same time, the company cannot support the public online shaming of its employees.”
She did not comment on CNL’s decision not to investigate Mr. X.
McEvoy got a job with another company in the Ottawa Valley shortly after he was fired. He said he is fighting his dismissal and is working with United Steelworkers, which represented him at CNL, to determine next steps.
He stepped away from creep catching after he left CNL. Someone else took over the website he used. The videos of his “catches” have been taken down. He said he is finding “new ways to advocate for victims of child sex abuse.”
Fidler said he felt “justified and vindicated” by the arbitrator’s decision. Looking back, Fidler said he doesn’t regret accompanying McEvoy that night. He said he remains “deeply disappointed” by the way CNL responded.
“This has always been about protecting children — that’s all,” he said.