Toronto-based ItsMe CEO charged with six counts of voyeurism

Peter Forde

Peter Forde, the 39-year-old CEO of Toronto-based startup ItsMe, has been charged with six counts of voyeurism.

Toronto police began investigating into alleged incidents of voyeurism in the Queen Street West and Spadina Avenue area — where ItsMe’s office is in close proximity at 174 Spadina Ave. — on March 16. In a release, the police said that “a man recorded women inside their apartments without their knowledge or consent.”

“We won’t release details of the evidence or what, if any, relationship exists between him and any of the victims,” police spokesperson Meaghan Gray said in an email to the Toronto Star yesterday. “However, the evidence does indicate that there are more victims.”

Launched in 2014, Forde’s company works on building virtual avatars of people by taking 360-degree photos of subjects. In a Star story, ItsMe is described as combining digital photography, artificial intelligence, and machine learning to create avatars of people for the VR world.

Police are concerned that there may be other victims, and have asked those with additional information to contact police at 416-808-1400, Crime Stoppers anonymously at 416-222-TIPS (8477), online at www.222tips.com, or text TOR and your message to CRIMES (274637).

The news of the charges has already had an impact in the Toronto tech community of which Forde was a participant. Forde was scheduled to speak at FreshBooks’ #IMakeaLiving event in Toronto on March 28, and in response, former participant and Raw Signal Group founder Melissa Nightingale said she would withdraw due to his involvement. (disclosure: Nightingale is one-half of a writing team that regularly contributes to BetaKit). Event host Saul Colt responded and added that Forde was immediately dropped following news of the charges.

Nightingale clarified to BetaKit that FreshBooks’ event organizers heard about the charges a week ago, but Nightingale was not informed of the reason why Forde was dropped until hearing about it from the news. Nightingale also said that no one from FreshBooks reached out following the news breaking.

Speaking with BetaKit, FreshBooks creative director Jeremy Bailey said that the company had found out the morning that the police press release went out on Monday, March 19, and that he and other staff had been informed of Forde’s removal from the event by Tuesday morning. Panelists at the event were also informed of his removal, but were not told of the reason why.

“We didn’t go into details and we didn’t explain why the panelist was removed because we believed our actions would speak louder than words,” he said. “We were trying to act as swiftly as possible and that’s what I communicated to the team, and we really want to make it clear that this was not in line with our values and not someone we want representing our brand. We are concerned first and foremost with our staff and the image we represent in this community, so this was an easy call to make.”

When it came to FreshBooks’ response to the issue, Bailey admitted the company could have handled the issue better, but it was a unique situation for the team.

Update 03/28/18 @ 6:12 PM EST: BetaKit has repositioned certain elements of this story in order to ensure clarity. We’ve also updated the article to reflect Melissa Nightingale’s writing contributions to BetaKit, and the circumstances surrounding her involvement.

  • Sunir Shah

    I am not sure what this really has to do with FreshBooks. Can you please explain how this article passed the editorial board?

    It is not up to the standards of journalistic ethics to infer associative guilt to any relationship to an accused.

    It is not as if FreshBooks was involved or had prior knowledge. Nor would it be appropriate or possible for FreshBooks to know a priori.

    Also it is not clear why you entrapped Melissa Nightingale. You have reported her as saying she was not informed and then reported that she was in fact informed, suggesting what exactly? Are you attempting to damage her reputation as well?

    Is that strictly necessary to hammer both FreshBooks and Ms. Nightingale in an article about Mr. Forde?

    The allegations and the police imply there are actual victims. Somehow BetaKit editorial board and this journalist decided to reframe the event victimize more people totally unrelated to the alleged crime?

    For what purpose? Publishing tech gossip to generate false controversy?

    • Jessica Galang

      Thanks for your comment. We’d be happy to share our process of writing the story and the work we do to ensure sensitivity in our reporting.

      Ms. Nightingale was aware that we were pursuing the story in this way, and before we published, provided explicit consent to be included, agreeing to share her side of the story.

      In our reporting, we also reached out to FreshBooks to get their perspective. It’s not uncommon in a news article to see two disputing accounts from sources; an important part of reporting ethically is to ensure that all parties involved in a story have a chance to share their perspective, especially in a sensitive one like this. We report on the statements made by many sides in a story whether they are conflicting or not, and it does not imply that one party is more right than the other.

      Our intention is not to suggest that these parties are guilty by association, or that FreshBooks had any prior knowledge. However, it is important to highlight the repercussions of newsworthy events within Canada’s startup community. Many of the actions contained within this story can serve as teachable moments for others within the community that may encounter similar issues.

      We understand how our intentions could be misinterpreted, however, and have repositioned certain aspects of this story, and included a transition sentence to better connect Mr. Forde’s alleged actions and the impact they might have on the larger startup community in which he participated.

      We hope that addresses your concerns, and appreciate the feedback.

      • As a news reporter you do not have standing to make a teachable moment for involved parties. That is the demonstration of editorial bias and thus does not meet scrutiny. Plus the CAJ ethics guidelines exist because bystanders incidental to an alleged crime do not have he wherewithal or media training to instantly know how to react to press inquiries. The professional journalists in Canada are expected to manage themselves.

        Prosecuting an alleged criminal by hammering their incidental associates is not considered acceptable in Canadian journalism.

        • Hi Sunir,

          I’ll let Jess’ statement stand for itself related to our process and ethics. One question, however: at what point on this comment thread were you going to disclose that you used to work at FreshBooks as their head of platform?

          • Sure? I know all the people in the article including Mr. Forde and Ms. Nightingale so I read it. It is a gossip piece. Getting attention from targeted associates is what gossip pieces are designed to do.

            I left FreshBooks in 2012 and do not have any other connections to the company.

            I do care about the human beings. As should you.

            You are trying to win an argument, not on merit of ethical standards but on a personal shoving match. Doesn’t this continue to debase Betakit’s standing here and serve to prove you are acting irresponsibly as editor?

            I am sticking to the question of professionalism because I am a professional. Fortunately it is an inclusive club and welcomes new members with open arms. You can still reflect on what a professional, correct response is and do it. The doors are not closed. The right thing is always an option.

            At this point a retraction and an apology given your unfortunate Twitter behaviour is the baseline. It is not losing to recognize one has strayed from the professional path and then return to it; that is a victory because it is a chance to become the better professional that will serve you in your career going forward.

      • I appreciate your professional reply though the CAJ standard would be to report on the factual event that was the impact on the tech industry—ie that Mr. Forde was dropped from a panel—without then probing into the he said/she said of innocent incidental bystanders struggling to react to an alleged crime they were not party to. This article still transfers guilt from the accused to unrelated parties and fails the CAJ ethics guidelines.

        Also your boss below is wildly out of control. I am sorry you have to work with him. I am sure you are doing your best.