NEWS

Vancouver burning hair video subject of police investigation

11/12/2014 10:11 EST | Updated 01/12/2015 05:59 EST
- VIDEO | Panhandler sets hair on fire - WARNING: Graphic content in video may offend some viewers

A disturbing video that shows a man lighting his hair on fire while a group of men apparently encourage him, is now the subject of a police investigation.

Police believe the video, which was posted to YouTube and LiveLeak.com, was shot over the weekend in the city's Gastown neighbourhood.

Man identified

They say tips have been pouring since the upsetting video went viral, generating upwards of 50,000 views since Sunday.

"Yeah, yeah all of it," voices can be heard saying as the man's hair begins to catch fire.

When the fire spreads and flames appear, they finally tell him to stop.

"Dude, don't burn your hair. Don't. I will give you this for free... Take this," one said, holding up what appears to be a cigarette.

Police have now identified the man who ignited his own hair, and are in the process of locating and interviewing him to find out what happened before and after this video was shot.

Vancouver Police Department Const. Brian Montague said the first step for police is to establish if what is seen transpiring on the video is a criminal offence.

"That's sort of the big question here," he said. "With the short video alone, it doesn't appear that a criminal offence has taken place, but we want to make sure. We're going to talk with this individual."

Montague said that police had also received a phone tip with information that may identify the person behind the camera, as well as those seen encouraging the alarming incident.

The Lookout Society, an operator of transitional housing in Vancouver, confirmed the man in the video is one of its clients. Spokesman Michael McQuillan called the incident in the video "disgusting."

"Yet another example of what people call 'bar stars' exploiting somebody who is very vulnerable," McQuillan said.

Self-harm barter not unusual

Self-harm stunts aren't new in Vancouver, and CBC News has talked to several panhandlers who say they've hurt themselves in exchange for money.

"I think it's an absolute stupid thing to do, but I've done it," said Rocky Prokop, one of two men who admitted to CBC News to lighting their hair on fire for cash.

"The guy said he'd give me $20 if I lit my hair on fire, which I did, but then he gave me five because I didn't burn... all my hair off," Prokop said.

Jedd Cloherty also told CBC News that he'd also lit his hair on fire for a few dollars that he would then use to feed an addiction.

"I've done that before. I've lit my hair on fire for money before... for cash. I don't know, people who are drinking, whatever, or partying, they get a kick out of it," he said.

Montague said the police are aware that other incidents of hair-burning for cash have taken place in the city.

"Lighting hair on fire is not something new," he said. "It's happened before and unfortunately, it will probably happen again."

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