News Local

Reports of clown pranks make their way to Orillia and area

By Patrick Bales, The Orillia Packet & Times

Creeped out by clowns? This won't make you feel any better.

A spat of scary clown pranks have been reported to the detachments that make up the OPP's central region, including four in the City of Orillia alone.

Police are not impressed.

"People need to really re-think this whole prank," said Acting Sgt. Paul Nancekivell of the OPP. "It's not a threat to public safety, (but) if people don't smarten up and stop doing it, we're going to end up charging them with public mischief. You're wasting time and police resources doing that."

Three other incidents were specified by Nancekivell, including two in Brighton and one in Southern Georgian Bay. The latter incident resulted in a young offender being charged.

Scary clown incidents have been increasing across the United States in the past few weeks. These incidents have included social media threats, using platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat, which advise scary clown(s) are going to attend school(s) or public areas and kill a specific person or people.

"Our challenge is social media now," Nancekivell said. "Years ago things wouldn't have been known as quickly or widespread. Kids are surfing the internet and sometimes they surf the wrong things on the internet, and that's the problem."

There have also been incidents where people dressed as clowns have been reported attending schools and public areas and, in some instances, chasing people.

That's the kind of prank seen closer to home most recently, with three teenagers being arrested Friday in Oshawa for "driving recklessly wearing clown masks and attempting to scare bystanders," according to a report from Peel Regional Police.

So far, the alleged perpetrators of the mischief the local OPP have been dealing with are primarily youth-aged. While those youth may be scaring other youngsters, the elderly and other vulnerable persons could be startled by the prank, with tragic or dangerous consequences.

"We're hoping it's not a phenomena that keeps on going," Nancekivel said. "Particularly with Halloween coming up. We want people to enjoy Halloween."

People who are dressing up as clowns with the intent of trying to scare people or cause harm could face a bevy of charges. If weapons are involved, charges could run from weapons dangerous to the peace, assault with a weapon or threatening. As well, a school or government building could be forced into an unnecessary lockdown.

If persons cause police officers to engage in false investigations that waste police resources they may also be charged with public mischief under the criminal code, a news release from the OPP warned.

The recent bout of scary clown sightings began in South Carolina over the summer, when police received a report of clowns mingling in the woods, making strange noises and flashing green lights. Rumour debunking website Snopes reported while that was the only police report received, other neighbours claimed the clowns were potentially armed and trying to lure children into the woods.

Police in South Carolina determined there was no threat in this instance, but since then copycats have sprung up all over the U.S., Canada and overseas, forcing parents and police to be extra vigilant and several corporations on both sides of the border to take action.

McDonald's announced recently it was sidelining its trademark mascot Ronald McDonald for the time being, while Target in the U.S. and Canadian Tire have both pulled clown decorations from their Halloween displays.

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