The Queen West Voyeur

Inside the Mind of a Voyeur

Pete Forde was a good landlord and a great friend, or so his tenants thought. Then they discovered he was filming them in their most private moments. The sinister world of spying for sport

By Katherine Laidlaw| Photograph by Daniel Neuhaus
| October 17, 2018

I first met Pete Forde two years ago in the back of Get Well, a dark bar on Dundas West. He was dressed in an orange paisley button-down made louder by his rotund frame. His ginger-brown hair curled up like a puff of smoke atop his head, and he seemed a little older than the rest of the crowd of writers and artists who had gathered on that hot summer night. I was there with my boyfriend at the time, one of Forde’s long-time friends, and didn’t know anyone else in the room. Forde walked up to me and introduced himself. He explained that he was the CEO of a Toronto-based tech company called itsme3D, which essentially creates video game versions of real people and inserts them into virtual-reality games. I was fascinated. He struck me as eccentric but also confident and curious, sweet and slightly shy. I later learned from his friends that his ability to connect with people was his great skill. They thought of him as a social chameleon, at ease with anarchist punks and billionaire angel investors alike. I liked him immediately.

We chatted a few times over the ensuing months. Once, when he learned I was in Portland, he sent me a long list of travel recommendations. Another time, he asked if I’d speak to a friend of his who was interested in publishing. When I agreed, he responded, “You are so consistently wonderful.” He was effusive with his praise and generous with his time. He would host birthday parties for himself every year and cover the entire food and booze bill for the dozens who would attend. He championed women, and I grew to think of him as a proponent of progressive politics. He was popular, platonically speaking, with one group in particular: women, usually slim, blonde, smart and a little bit vulnerable. Many of those female friends had been physically or psychologically abused and were looking for solace and security, and they saw him as a safe, supportive friend.


Many of Forde’s friends were women, usually slim, blonde and vulnerable, some of them fleeing abusive relationships. In Forde, they saw a safe and supportive friend

 

Eventually, Forde invited me to the itsme3D office at Queen and Spadina to get my very own avatar made. Intrigued, I said yes. The office was an airy room lined with exposed brick. It was blindingly bright inside the itsme3D rig—a portable walk-in closet with cameras mounted at multiple angles that felt like something out of a sci-fi movie. I entered and, with a soft click, the door closed behind me.

“Stand very still,” Forde said from behind a computer outside. A light flashed, and it was over. I exited and walked over to Forde, who was staring at my likeness onscreen. There I was, a little fuzzy and dancing jerkily but decidedly me. As Forde uploaded my 3-D image, I slipped on a pair of VR goggles. Standing there like a hammerhead shark, I was soon watching a virtual me gleefully explore the top of a virtual Mount Everest, twirl spirals of sparkling pink paint on a virtual canvas and fight off brawlers in a virtual bar, then slug back virtual beers. When I left that day, I went to The Burger’s Priest and sat quietly. Outside the headset, the world so full of fake life, everything seemed a little bit flat.

Behind any computer function is a programmer and his many algorithms. Each coding language is different, an amalgam of letters, numbers and symbols that combine to form a string of commands that only coders—and the machines they’re commanding—can understand. Forde often bragged to friends that he’d taught himself at age six to code in BASIC—a programming language usually taught to Grade 11 computer science students. Tech know-how runs in his family: his grandfather William was a basement tinkerer who built televisions as a hobby, and his father, John, is a computer engineer who owned multiple early-model PCs and homebuilt machines.


The Queen West Voyeur
DIY SURVEILLANCE TOOL No. 1: The snake camera has legitimate uses for plumbing and appliance repairs but can easily be abused for surreptitious recording
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The Fordes lived in a small town outside Peterborough, and Forde’s childhood was an unhappy one. He’d always been intelligent and overweight and was bullied relentlessly for both. Classmates would punch and kick him at the bus stop at the end of his country lane. In gym class, they dunked his clothes in the toilet so he couldn’t change out of his gym uniform, and they’d tear off his T-shirt on the playground and point and laugh at his flab.

In high school, he played the drums in a punk band. According to a friend, he began to steal from his father, rifling through the collection of musical equipment, cameras and tech piled in the Fordes’ basement, and hawk the gadgets to classmates (Forde denies this). He was affiliated with the Peterborough chapter of a rowdy collective that’s comparable to today’s Antifa. They organized protests and beat up racists in Toronto‚ though Forde didn’t partake in the violence. His form of teen rebellion was to be aggressively progressive, flouting rules, telling people what to think and transgressing boundaries, all of which would continue as themes in his adult life.

By the time he had graduated high school, he was coding, playing music and chasing girls, and the big city seemed like a better place to do all three. He moved to Toronto, at first sleeping under his desk in an office building at Don Mills and Eglinton until he moved into a house on Boston Avenue in Leslieville.

Within a few years, Forde was drumming in a rock band called Hotel that was touring with modest success, opening for bigger acts like Interpol and The Dears. He started dating a 17-year-old girl he met on Lavalife. He set up his own IT support business and worked with clients like Bell Mobility, Chapters and Sprint. He began to earn more money than most of his friends and threw it around in generous gestures. He gave one friend from Peterborough a credit card and told him to use it until he got settled in Toronto. He gave his girlfriend first and last month’s rent for a new apartment. Forde loved to play puppet master, directing those closest to him toward things he thought they’d be good at or enjoy and priding himself on introducing friends to new ideas, even when they were apathetic or resistant. Though Forde denies it, a former girlfriend says he encouraged her to feel comfortable peeing on the toilet in front of him, even though she didn’t want to. “What, you’ve never done that before?” she says he asked.

Forde struggled with romantic relationships and instead had what his friends call “pursuits,” slow and determined campaigns to woo women who’d already indicated that they weren’t interested in him. He would buy them gifts, show up to events he knew they’d be attending and even offer them a couch to crash on for the night or, later, a room in his house for cheap. Once, Forde refused to attend the wedding of a friend he’d known for years—a friend he’d never dated—because she was marrying someone who wasn’t him. Sometimes, these pursuits would last for years, and they often ended badly. An intimate relationship, it turned out, wasn’t a program he could write.

Shortly after he moved to Toronto, he became friends with a group dedicated to “urban exploration,” an innocuous term for trespassing, usually into places like industrial ruins, construction sites and decommissioned subway stations. He prowled the city with his friends and his camera, disobeying rules and shooting places he wasn’t supposed to be. That behaviour wasn’t so detached from his life as a coder, says a former girlfriend. “He liked to find the back way in, manipulating things from that angle,” she says. “He prided himself on being a hacker, on breaking the rules. He always thought that he was the most intelligent person in the room.”


Forde’s employee clicked on a file labelled “Pictures.” Inside were 150 folders, each with a woman’s name

 

By 2010, Forde had achieved modest success as the co-founder of two projects: BuzzData, a software platform on which journalists and data scientists could share information, and Unspace, a consulting firm that worked with clients to build websites and apps. His income from those projects had enabled him to buy a $333,000 three-bedroom, two-bathroom townhouse at Queen and Spadina with a shared rooftop pool and Jacuzzi. From his bedroom window, facing south, he could see the CN Tower and, for a Peterborough kid who had long seen the big city as the pinnacle of success, it felt like he’d arrived.

Forde lived with a rotating cast of roommates. He once bragged to a friend that some 54 people had called his place home at one point or another. (The friend thought this wasn’t necessarily something worth bragging about.) His roommates were often women and often younger than he was.

Through his work, Forde fell in with a circle of developers who eventually hit it big, including Phil Caravaggio, the founder of Precision Nutrition, a popular hub for nutrition coaches. For years, Caravaggio paid Forde a monthly consulting fee of $3,000 because he’d offered him some crucial advice before the business took off. Tobi Lütke, the introverted German-Canadian coder and billionaire CEO of Shopify, became a close friend, and he and Forde spent several Christmases together.

Yet Forde hadn’t come close to achieving Caravaggio or Lütke’s level of success, and that fact wore on him as he approached 40. In 2013, he had reason to think his fortunes might change. Aidan Tracey, an angel investor he knew through Unspace, came to him with an idea. Tracey’s beloved poodle was dying, and he wanted to memorialize her. What if they could make renderings of pets, he wondered, and then print them in 3-D? They began to brainstorm and came up with Rememborines Inc., a combination of “remember” and “figurines.” Unfortunately, the project faltered when they realized it was nearly impossible to get pets to sit still long enough to render them faithfully. But what if, Forde mused, we did the same thing for people—and digitized instead of printed them? Forde imagined a precise replica based on a detailed composite photograph. He knew robot dogs in Japan were keeping people company and saw a related application. He thought that he could help cure loneliness—something Forde knew a lot about. Tracey agreed to fund the venture.

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The Queen West Voyeur
DIY SURVEILLANCE TOOL No. 2: It looks and functions just like Apple’s ubiquitous USB adapters, but it houses a tiny motion-activated camera

 

Forde became CEO and threw himself into the project. He rented office space near his townhouse and hired staff. He would often work late into the night, leaving at four or five in the morning and sleeping the day away. By 2015, the company had participated in incubator programs, generated some capital and built a client list that included Samsung and Cadillac Fairview.

One day in late 2015, Forde walked into a salad bar on Queen West, just around the corner from his townhouse. Behind the counter was a gregarious, elfin 23-year-old I’ll call Anika­—a court-ordered publication ban forbids this magazine from using her real name. The pair got to talking about tech, virtual reality, their lives. The conversation lasted less than five minutes, but Anika was intrigued. She’d never given much thought to virtual reality, and the notion of a wild and whimsical alternative reality excited her. Months later, Forde came back. “I don’t know if you remember me,” he said. “I’m Pete.” Forde passed her his business card. Anika had recently been dumped by her partner, and Forde had a room in his townhouse for rent. A couple of coffee dates later, she moved in.

Around the same time, Forde met a 28-year-old woman I’ll call Emily, who was running from an acrimonious relationship. He asked what she could afford to pay. Emily said $800, which was at least $400 below market value. To her surprise, he said yes. For a year, the trio lived in domestic harmony, helping each other through difficult stretches and commiserating about romantic disappointment. Anika began to teach music, act in plays and work as a virtual-reality host, offering guided tours through VR experiences at an event space filled with pods, game rooms and green screens. Forde often came home with gifts for his roommates. When Anika’s electronic organ broke, he replaced it. And as she grew more and more immersed in virtual reality, he gave her a device called a “merge cube,” a small holographic VR toy.

Forde talked openly and often about unrequited loves and close friendships he often felt were on the brink of something more. But as far as the women could tell, he rarely dated.

During the year they lived together, Anika and Emily grew close to Forde. They spent last Christmas together, getting drunk at Forde’s office and, for laughs, watching a campy Alice in Wonderland–inspired porno he had found online. As a blizzard raged over the city that night, they bundled into parkas and climbed onto the roof to make snow angels. Forde talked about how he’d once had sex with a girl up there, and Anika joked about how eager she was for her boyfriend to come home for the summer now that she knew how to access the roof. “Pete was always an inspiration for a new adventure,” says Anika. “That night on the roof is still one of my happiest memories.” She and Forde spent the rest of the night dismantling virtual bombs on his big-screen TV, playing a game called Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, while Emily fell in and out of sleep on the red leather couch.

By the summer of 2017, itsme3D had run out of money. Because so much in the tech start-up universe relies on investment capital, even the whiff of a slowdown can spell doom. The company was in trouble. That summer, Forde laid off all of his staff, except for two people: his co-founder, and a coder who was the first paid itsme3D employee.


The detective pulled up a 45-second video of Anika naked, washing her arms. She began to shake
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One afternoon in August of 2017, the coder’s laptop overheated and he began to investigate. He and Forde shared a subscription to a cloud-based program called CrashPlan, which saved a backup of their files. Forde had told the coder that the privacy settings would keep their files separate, but the coder came across a folder of Forde’s labelled “Pictures.” He didn’t realize when he clicked on it that he effectively had backdoor access to his boss’s personal files. Inside, he found about 150 folders, each labelled with a different woman’s first and last names. He saw the name of his own ex-girlfriend and clicked. There were nude selfies—photos he had seen before but had no idea how Forde had acquired.

The coder was stunned. He closed the folder and opened another, then another. Many of them contained pictures culled from social media, most likely using a tracing technology that was set to automatically download photos as soon as someone uploaded them to their profile. But a handful were more sinister: upskirt shots, crotch shots, nudes. When he opened a video of Forde’s roommate Emily taking a shower, the coder felt sick. In the video, as Emily steps out of the shower and wraps herself in a towel, Forde, in the background, lets out a mischievous giggle. Six of the folders contained graphic material: more surreptitious shower videos, likely taken with a snake camera sliding under the main-floor bathroom in his townhouse; crotch shots of his female friends in cafés, taken with his iPhone clicking away underneath the table; and upskirt photos of his roommates, taken on the stairs leading up to itsme3D.

The coder didn’t know what to do. He wasn’t just an itsme3D employee; he was Forde’s former roommate, and he owed him—Forde had decided to forgo collecting a salary so the coder could keep his job. For months, the coder did nothing. But he noticed that Forde kept adding to the folder.

In March of 2018, the coder decided to confide in the other remaining itsme3D employee, the engineer who’d originally developed the avatar technology with Forde. The co-founder was unequivocal: they had to turn Forde in. The coder nodded in agreement. They transferred the folders to a USB key and the two of them went to the police to turn over the material.

Days later, a group of officers knocked on the Spadina townhouse door with a search warrant. Emily was home alone and opened the door, mystified. The officers swept through the apartment, looking for covert recording devices. They rifled through stacks of yellowing slides and prints of family photos from when Forde was young, and knocked vinyl records off their shelves. On the windowsill of Forde’s bedroom stood a miniature 3-D figurine of a contortionist woman he knows, produced from an avatar of her that he once made, so realistic that the coder recognized her from real life. The officers confiscated recording equipment, including two snake cameras that Forde had likely slipped under the bathroom door. They found cameras hidden in long cords that looked like Internet cables running along the walls: one end could be plugged into a USB port; the other was a recording device. They found sunglasses with a camera hidden inside them. They seized a pile of hard drives that held decades of files, both personal and professional, and an iMac. The officers left clothing and photos littering Forde’s bedroom. By the time their search was finished, the contortionist figurine lay on the floor, in pieces.

Voyeurism is a curious crime, and it’s fairly new to the Criminal Code. Historically in Canada, acts of voyeurism have been prosecuted under prowl-by-night or mischief charges. But in the early 2000s, technology was moving at hypersonic speed, and the law needed to catch up. In 2005, after years of lobbying, the Department of Justice amended the Criminal Code to include voyeurism as a separate offence.

The hallmark of voyeurism is secrecy. A voyeur is someone who gets sexual pleasure from surreptitiously watching someone else as they undress or commit sex acts. Many voyeurs report having a lack of self-esteem, social skills and sexual confidence. And voyeurism is one of the only crimes in which, until a perpetrator has been caught, the victims don’t know they’ve been victimized.


The Queen West Voyeur
DIY SURVEILLANCE TOOL No. 3: The thick frame conceals a tiny camera in the bridge that’s capable of recording in HD
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The desire to spy is more common than we’d like to admit. In a 2006 study, researchers at the Swedish Karolinska Institute—the university that hands out Nobel Prizes for physiology and medicine—found that 11.5 per cent of men were aroused by spying on others having sex, compared to 3.1 per cent of women. And in a U.S. study from 2007, 83 per cent of men and 70 per cent of women admitted that they would watch someone undress, provided they knew they wouldn’t get caught. In the same study, 70 per cent of men and 40 per cent of women said they’d also watch an unsuspecting couple have sex.

The original peeping Tom was a young tailor in 11th-century England. As the legend goes, Tom the tailor drilled a hole in his window shutters so he could lustfully watch Lady Godiva ride naked through the village streets to impress her husband, lord of the fiefdom. But voyeurs are no longer just peeping Toms leering through strangers’ windows from the bushes after dark. These days, shadowy figures plant tiny cameras all over the city. Earlier this year, hidden cameras were found in a Starbucks washroom in the financial district, and another one was disguised as an electrical outlet in a restaurant washroom in Scarborough. A few years ago, someone taped smartphones beneath the sinks in women’s change rooms on the Downsview Park military base. In September, a couple renting an Airbnb near King and Bathurst removed the face of a digital clock to reveal a hidden camera. Last year, 864 voyeurism incidents were reported in Canada—a 16 per cent increase from the year before.

On Amazon, you can buy a spy cam barely bigger than a fingernail for $20. A camera hidden in a USB adapter will run you $26. Camera pens cost $10. There are cameras hidden in charging docks, sunglasses, clock radios, watches, picture frames, baseball caps and smoke detectors. In Canada, no rules govern who can buy this kind of surveillance gear. Legally, at least, it’s how they’re used that matters.

One morning in August, I walked into one of Toronto’s spy gear stores and informed the cheerful salesperson that I was looking for a camera—something small. “Something you can place somewhere or something wearable?” she asked. The former, I said. She flashed me a knowing grin and led me to a glass case. Inside were cameras disguised as fitness tracker wristbands, coffee lids, car keys and Bluetooth speakers. She pulled out a black box the size of a USB stick, listed for $225, and demonstrated how I could watch the HD footage from my phone using a proprietary camera app. I asked her if there were rules governing where and under what circumstances I could use it. “Is it for your private space?” she asked. I nodded. “You can do whatever you want—it’s your space,” she said, smiling. (That isn’t true: filming someone in the bathroom or bedroom without consent is illegal.) “What if I were travelling?” I asked. “Do you mean, can you use it in a hotel room?” she said. “People use these in hotel rooms all the time.”

The day of the raid, Anika sat in front of Detective Nathalie Melo, a soft-spoken cop who opened a laptop before her on the table. She didn’t know why she was there—only that her boss had told her the police wanted her to come down to 14 Division as soon as possible. Melo asked her to identify a few photos onscreen. The first was a snapshot of Anika wearing a VR headset, from one of the many times she and Forde had hung out at itsme3D, playing games, which she had likely consented to. The next was a selfie she’d taken and posted as a profile picture. There was her LinkedIn headshot, and then a photo from her ex’s Instagram from her college days. In it, she’s wearing a crop top. The detective said it looked like Forde used bots called web crawlers to automatically save any newly uploaded photos that specific women would post to social media—a bikini shot one victim would later delete, for example. Melo continued with the photos: a screenshot from a short film Anika had acted in where she’s wearing a bikini. When Melo pulled up a 45-second video of Anika naked, washing her arms in the shower, Anika began to shake. “I was scared and confused,” she says. “I left the interview and I didn’t really know where to go. I couldn’t go home.”

Forde hadn’t been back to the townhouse or spoken to his roommates. That evening, he took a friend out for sushi. They’d known each other for nearly 20 years, so the dinner was an anniversary of sorts. After dinner, they took an Uber back downtown and got out near Forde’s office. He noticed two hulking men in dark jackets standing, arms crossed, in front of the building. As Forde approached, one of the men said, “We’re here to see you.” Forde thought he was joking until the man flashed his badge and told him he was under arrest. They confiscated his cellphone and led him to a cruiser parked on Spadina Avenue.

In a holding cell at 14 Division, Forde learned he was being charged with seven counts of voyeurism (none of which has been proven in court). The next morning, officers took him to Old City Hall, where he met his public defender. The judge refused to release him on his own recognizance. His lawyer told him that, because of his status as an “elite hacker,” the judge worried he’d delete evidence if released. Instead, he spent five days at the Toronto South Detention Centre before being granted bail. The conditions of his release include living with his dad, staying at least 25 metres away from his townhouse, having no contact with his victims and remaining in the country. He was also prohibited from possessing camera equipment, yet the judge allowed him to purchase a new phone.

In the days after Forde’s arrest, Anika learned the extent of the crimes for which he stood accused. Most of the other photographed women were his long-time friends—women who had confided details of their deepest insecurities. He had always been happy—even eager—to lend a shoulder or an ear. One friend, who’d told him just months earlier that she had been raped, learned he’d been taking pictures of her crotch over coffee for the better part of a decade.

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For months after Anika’s meeting with the detective, she felt anxious. She’d been falling asleep in the early-morning hours, waking up fully clothed and surrounded by her guitar and ukulele—the things in her life that make her feel safe. Emily was sleeping poorly, too, then struggling to wake up. She won’t go to the gym in their building anymore—there’s a camera on the wall, and it makes her feel like she is being watched. Some of the women Forde spied on have combed through their Facebook friend lists, deleting names they can’t trust. One of his other victims I interviewed told me that the trauma hits her in unexpected ways. “I sit at home and just start bawling,” she says. “I have dreams about him. A lot of people had dreams about him.” Other victims say that they have panic attacks so bad they can’t leave the house, that they think they see Forde in their periphery at parties, that they don’t know who to trust, so they trust no one.

Anika and Emily are still living in the townhouse and, at least for now, aren’t paying rent. Forde’s father is officially their landlord, and he hasn’t come to collect. The women are hosting parties in an effort to reclaim the space and restore some sense of normalcy to their lives. They’re taking photos of their friends in the first-floor bathroom to make the space feel comfortable again. Emily recently hosted a party on the house’s rooftop terrace.

To say that voyeurism is a victimless crime is patently false, but courts tend to sentence perpetrators as though they are relatively harmless. Last year, when a Calgary handyman was hired to re-tile a woman’s bathroom, he planted cameras and recorded more than 200 videos of the woman and her daughter urinating and showering. Although he was on probation at the time for a similar offence, he was sentenced to just 18 months in prison. In another particularly stomach-churning case, a London, Ontario, high school teacher named Ryan Jarvis was discovered using a camera pen to record the breasts of his female students in class. The Ontario Court of Appeal acquitted him last year, saying that school wasn’t a place that students could reasonably expect privacy. (The Supreme Court of Canada will rule on the government’s appeal later this year.) Since Forde has no prior criminal record, he most likely won’t face jail time if he is found guilty. No trial date has yet been set.

I met Forde one Friday in August, on an afternoon so humid that it felt like heat was hissing from the streets. My heart was pounding as I walked up the driveway to his father’s semi in Etobicoke. I was conflicted about speaking to him, vacillating between hoping that he—someone I once held in high regard—could account for what he had done and being almost too disgusted to broach the subject with him. For the women he hurt, what could he possibly say that would be enough? At the door, Forde looked slimmer and tired. He was in bare feet, wearing a brown City Lights Bookshop T-shirt. He led me upstairs to his bedroom to show me that he can’t see the CN Tower from his window anymore. Months ago, Aidan Tracey fired him from his role as CEO of itsme3D. The remaining employees have since changed the locks at the Spadina office.

Forde spends most of his time alone now. His passwords were on the phone that police confiscated, so he has been locked out of much of his online life. The isolation, he says, is crazy-making. We sat in the shade on the back deck, surrounded by trees. Every 15 minutes, a GO train rattled past.

It was two weeks past his 40th birthday. We talked for hours. When I asked him why he did it, especially to his roommates, he was quiet for a long time. It’s something he spends a lot of time staring at the wall and thinking about, he said. “It’s far less sexual than everyone has the right to assume,” he said. He seemed to suggest he was driven by the thrill—the adrenalin, most of all. “Jumping out of a plane would have been easier,” he said.

He wished that he could relive the past three years and make different choices. “I’m acknowledging that these bad things I did were stupid and they happened, and I wish I could take them back,” he said, the words tumbling from his mouth. “I’m an idiot, and I’m going to be paying for it for the rest of my life.” He said he has gone to therapy voluntarily, trying to understand why he did what he did. “I’m shocked and embarrassed and appalled and remorseful. I actually get a little anxious because I feel like I’m running out of words for ‘sorry.’ ”


“It’s far less sexual than everyone has the right to assume,” said Forde. “Jumping out of a plane would have been much easier”

 

I don’t know what redemption looks like, but I know that him sitting there in the shade and saying all the right things wasn’t enough. I wondered what Forde’s victims would want from him. More than this, I thought when I heard him describe what he did as “something stupid.” More than this, I thought when I commented that voyeurism is a relatively new criminal charge and he joked, “I’ve always been a trailblazer, Katherine.” More than this, I thought when he said he thinks about what he did and wonders aloud, “What the fuck was that all about? In hindsight, none of this makes any sense to me.” More than this, I thought when he called Anika the “Robin to his Batman” and said he hopes the people he misses miss him, too. More than this.

I realized, as we sat there, that he thought—or, at least, hoped—that his relationships with Emily and Anika hadn’t been irreparably damaged. “I have dreams about all of us just hugging it out,” he said. “In our own way, we were all kind of lost dogs looking for companionship.”

Near the end of our conversation, I had to ask because I needed to know. Did I have a folder? Forde looked stricken. “No,” he said. I nodded. Relief, and a tiny flicker of sympathy. Then he continued. “There are many reasons for that. Opportunity. Mechanisms. I’m not a wizard!”

Days later, I recalled something that Emily said during one of our conversations. She told me that Forde would sometimes curl up beside her on the couch, so close that they were touching, which made her uncomfortable enough that she would get up or slide over. It struck Emily as the exact sort of intimacy that he sought but couldn’t find. “He can get a sex worker,” she said. “He can watch porn. He can have online relationships. The one thing he can’t have is the part of the relationship where you see someone in the shower or without their makeup on­—where they’re just walking around the house, being regular people. That’s what he doesn’t have.” Forde had lived so much of his life exerting influence in a virtual reality; perhaps he saw his gross violation as merely a natural extension of that fake existence. Or perhaps he justified it another way in his mind: he had given his friends money, career advice and connections; in return, he was collecting tokens of intimacy.

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The Queen West Voyeur
DIY SURVEILLANCE TOOL No. 4: Records HD video through a tiny lens above the pocket clip. Plus, it functions as a real pen for plausible deniability

 

A few years ago, the CBC interviewed Forde about Replika, an artificial intelligence app that duplicates an individual’s personality and stores it on a phone as a sort of virtual companion. “What the folks at Replika seemed to have figured out is that people love talking about themselves,” he told the reporter. “They crave intimacy and the feeling of being understood. And everyone gets lonely sometimes.”

I thought about how too much time alone can make you sick, how loneliness can creep into your bloodstream and stay. Moments later, I pulled out my phone and scrolled through the list of people viewing my latest Instagram story. I was taken aback when I saw Forde’s name. Even now, after everything, he’s still watching.


This story originally appeared in the November 2018 issue of Toronto Life magazine. To subscribe, for just $29.95 a year, click here.

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