Paul Serdar was in a stand-up tanning booth at Planet Fitness in Chilliwack on a Thursday more than two months ago when something didn’t feel right.
He was part-way through a nine-minute tanning session when he looked around. Even with the bright lights and wearing goggles it was obvious: a camera.
“You could see the lens poking through,” Serdar told The Progress Wednesday.
What he found was a sophisticated camera set-up in tanning booth number three. He went back to his locker, got his phone and took some photos before he went to get the manager.
|A photo Paul Serdar took of the Planet Fitness Chilliwack manager removing the hidden camera he found in a stand-up tanning booth at Planet Fitness in Chilliwack on August 8, 2019. (Paul Serdar)|
“She came back and said, ‘no, no, no, it’s a thermometer,’” Serdar said. “I said ‘listen lady, I’ve been in the food industry for 29 years and I’ve never seen a thermometer with a fish-eye lens.’”
Serdar left, asking what she was going to do. He came back the next day and waited 40 minutes for her to speak to him. Finally she admitted it was a camera, said “sorry” and told him that the police were called.
All of this was back on August 8, something Chilliwack RCMP confirmed this week.
Chilliwack RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Mike Rail said that day they received a report that “suspicious electronic devices — cameras — were discovered in a business in the 45000-block of Luckakuck Way.”
Rail said the RCMP Serious Crime Section has conduct of the investigation.
U.S.-based Planet Fitness senior public relations manager Becky Zirlen also confirmed this week that a “recording device” was found, and that the franchise owner was working with the RCMP.
But until a few days ago and a post on Facebook, there was no word that a police investigation was underway, no notification from Planet Fitness this had been found, and no one had told gym members if cameras were found anywhere else.
Serdar personally examined the other stand-up tanning booths and can confirm there were no other cameras in those units. He even attended the Abbotsford Planet Fitness and looked in a booth and found nothing.
But what about showers, washrooms, changerooms? When asked in a follow-up email, Zirlen did not immediately respond. Cpl. Rail similarly said nothing more could be said because the file is under investigation.
“We understand people’s concerns and Chilliwack RCMP are actively pursuing our investigation of the report,” Cpl. Rail said. “As police move forward with our investigation the integrity of the investigation, the evidence obtained, and the privacy of those who might be potential victims remains a high priority to us.”
Another Planet Fitness Chilliwack member named Pat — who asked that her last name not be used — said she likes the club very much because it is so clean, but is upset about the lack of communication or responses to her questions.
“It’s very disturbing that we aren’t getting any information,” Pat said. “I understand it’s an investigation but they should let the public know or the members know. I don’t know where else to go. I phoned Planet Fitness. I phoned the RCMP…. It’s really maddening.”
As for Serdar, he has been sitting on the photos he took and the fact that he was the one who found the camera for two months until someone, he doesn’t know who, mentioned it on Facebook.
The incident had him shaken, leading him to seek counselling. He tried to get a lawyer involved but all of them wanted money to even talk so he waited. Finally he did get some legal advice, which in part was to not call police since Planet Fitness called police already.
But why have police not contacted him, two months later? He has no idea.
“I assumed the police were investigating and they would want to talk to me,” he said.
Serdar said the camera he found was larger than a large iPhone, maybe eight inches, by four inches, by 1.5 inches. And the wires from the camera were tied up running along the cables that went to the control unit of the tanning booth. He added that it was tanning booth number three, the closest one behind the desk where the staff computers are.
Now that it’s out, he said Planet Fitness members are calling him, the media is calling him, but still nothing from the RCMP. So he’s waiting.
As for his membership, he cancelled it but Planet Fitness charged him approximately $70 to get out of his contract.
Anyone who believes they may have been the subject of videoing or has any information regarding this investigation is urged to contact the Chilliwack RCMP at 604-792-4611.