Reporter: Matthew Jordan
The names of the people interviewed in this article have been withheld at the request of the participants for reasons of anonymity.
There was no bat signal or red telephone, or even a need to strap some unsuspecting victim to a diabolical doomsday device. To lure out the cape-less crusaders of Oshawa’s unruly nightlife, one need only send a message – or in this case – an email.
Hanging around the steps of the Vault in Oshawa’s downtown, looking around anxiously for any sign of superhuman life — to the sky and the tops of buildings — or turning around to find them standing right behind us. Eventually, they show up on foot. After all, in this day and age, we’re all economizing.
Allowing our heroes a brief few minutes to suit up, we dived head-on into a fringe-world of ideology and citizen justice.
Vigilantism – or citizen justice – is gaining momentum in North America, and Oshawa is no exception with its own brigade of real life superheroes, the Katalysts Ontario.
The Katalysts, a loose collective of individuals from a variety of backgrounds, patrol Oshawa’s streets at night in what they say is an attempt to prevent crime in the community. Clad in full costume, from mask to logo, they claim to have dealt with everything from stopping robberies, to foiling drug deals. Local police say they know of their actions, and their operations are growing.
“I just needed to do something more for my community,” said Aftershock, leader and founding member of the Katalysts. “I wanted to get out there and be a little more hands-on. One night I put together a really quick costume, and I went and patrolled my community.”
Aftershock, who worked as a security guard at a Whitby steel plant for five years, said he was unsatisfied with giving his services only to his employer, he felt there were injustices happening in his city, and he wanted to be a part of changing it. He then formed the Katalysts – or the Justice Crew of Oshawa as they are known locally – with the help of a friend. They initially began patrols in Bowmanville, and were quick to find action.
“We stopped at one of the local convenience stores, and saw a group of individuals who, stereotypically, looked kind of shady,” said Aftershock. “I sent my partner to walk by in civilian clothing to see if he could hear what they were talking about. Sure enough, they were looking to buy some marijuana.”
Aftershock said they immediately left the property and phoned the Durham Regional Police Service anonymously to report what they had witnessed. They waited close by, and one of the individuals was arrested shortly after.
The Chronicle was eager and willing to risk life and limb to join our heroes on one of these late night sting operations only to find out that they were on some sort of holiday-sabbatical to celebrate Halloween, and wouldn’t be patrolling again till November.
The Katalysts vary their patrols to avoid becoming known in certain areas. Initially, they were met with negative reactions from the local police, but have taken measures to be open and available, which have helped to develop a more friendly relationship. They call into dispatch before conducting patrols to inform the police of what they are doing and where they will be. They carry only cellphones and flashlights, and avoid carrying anything that can be perceived as a weapon. As well, they freely allow police to search them if requested.
“There is a real stigma because of [the movie] Kickass, and they think that anybody who wants to do that is automatically going to lean towards violence,” said Nameless Crusader, a newer member to the group. “There is a very large difference between RLSH (real life super hero) and a vigilante. We try to stay as far away from annoying the cops as possible.”
Sgt. Nancy van Rooy of the DRPS said that vigilantism is illegal, and that police in no way endorse or condone citizen justice.
But the Katalysts believe having an extra set of eyes is an asset.
“I think the police are doing a great job, however they can’t be everywhere all the time,” said Aftershock. “There is only so much manpower, and they need to deal with more important issues.”
However, the Katalysts have no formal training in combat, and admit to being in situations where they feared for their personal safety. They said they try to avoid confrontations and keep their involvement to “reconnaissance”, taking pictures, gathering evidence, and alerting police.
The Katalysts want to expand its service into charity work and campaigns against bullying and violence. They have participated in community litter cleanups, as well as homeless outreach in Oshawa and Toronto, with the assistance of Toronto’s own chapter, the Trillium Guards.
Aftershock produces a weekly blog about the Katalysts activities via their YouTube channel, and they can also be found on Facebook.
So there it is, all you no-good hooligans, there may not be spider webs or a “THUMP” and a “POW”, but you can’t say you haven’t been warned.