An Alberta man convicted of luring a child online, and under a court order not to attend community centres where there are children, was an exhibitor at Northern FanCon in Prince George.
Bradley Lawrence Whalen was selling bobblehead toys under the business name Galactic Funko during the event, held May 13-15 at CN Centre and the Kin Centre arenas.
In April 2006, he was sentenced to six months in jail for unlawfully using a computer to communicate with a person believed to be under 14 years of age for the purpose of facilitating an indecent act, according to documents provided to the Citizen by the Nova Scotia Judiciary and Nova Scotia Public Prosecution Service. During the same hearing, he was also sentenced for robbery, wearing a mask while committing an offence, theft, two counts of fraud and mischief from separate incidents. The terms added up to three years and seven months in jail.
An exhibitor familiar with Whalen, who asked not to have their name or business identified, recognized him at Northern FanCon and was uncomfortable with him being there.
“It was definitely Brad that was working the booth in Prince George,” the exhibitor said. “A guy like him… selling items that are oriented to children. These things are vinyl dolls, and yes there are adult collectors… but they’re primarily oriented to children.”
The exhibitor said they’ve seen Whalen at similar events across Western Canada.
In an emailed statement, Northern FanCon Society president Lonnie Eckardt said the event organizers were notified about Whalen’s presence at the event.
"It is Northern FanCon policy that vendors identify themselves upon check in via our vendor manager in order to receive their table/vendor package. I did not personally speak with Mr. Whalen, however, I understand that our vendor manager did speak with him prior to the accusation (on check-in)..." Eckardt said in an email. “We were alarmed to find out that this individual was at Northern FanCon."
In addition to the jail sentence issued in 2006, Whalen was also ordered to register as a sex offender for a period of 10 years and was issued a 20-year prohibition order, according to information provided by the Nova Scotia Public Prosecution Service.
The prohibition order, issued on May 15, 2006, says Whalen “shall not attend any public park or public swimming area, where persons under the age of fourteen years are present or can reasonably be expected to be present, or daycare centre, school ground, playground or community centre.”
In addition, the order prohibited Whalen from working at jobs or volunteering in capacities that involve being in a position of trust with children under 14 and from using computers to communicate with people under the age of 14.
Whalen went by the name Bradley Sampson and was 23 years old at the time of his conviction.
In January 2013, a provincial court judge in Halifax granted Whalen’s application to amend the order to allow him to be in those previously-prohibited areas, but only if he is accompanied by a person over the age of 18, according to an audio recording of the court proceeding. The judge also updated the order to reflect Whalen's legal name, Bradley Lawrence Whalen.
Whalen’s convictions became public in 2021, after he declared his intention to run for mayor, then city council, in Lethbridge, according to reports by the Lethbridge Herald, Lethbridge News Now and CTV Calgary. Whalen was the founder and owner of a Star Wars-themed restaurant and pub in Lethbridge called the Coco Vanilla Galactic Cantina.
When reached by the Citizen on Thursday, Whalen declined to comment on the record.
‘MY KIDS COLLECT THOSE THINGS'
Prince George makeup and face paint artist Mandy Paavola said she was told about Whalen by another exhibitor on Friday afternoon. Paavola, who operates MP Makeup Artistry, had a booth in the Kin 1 set up to do children’s face painting.
Paavola said the event and exhibitor area were full of children. Admittance to the event was free for children 12 and under.
"He went to jail for luring children," Paavola said. “His booth is fun, it’s full of toys. I have an 11- and a 13-year old. My kids collect those things."
Paavola said when she found out about Whalen’s past on Friday, she emailed Northern FanCon organizer Dyanne Lybbert with her concerns, but didn’t receive any response.
“They just let him stay,” Paavola said. “I would have gone and confronted him about it and asked him to leave.”
‘WE DID EVERYTHING IN OUR POWER'
Eckardt said safety is a top priority for the Northern FanCon Society.
"Obviously, the safety of everyone attending and working at our event is paramount to us. We were notified of this individual on our premises by someone at our event and we looked into it immediately,” Eckardt said. “We could not find evidence that he was not allowed in our province or that he was not to be around minors; he was not listed on the sex offenders registry. No other concerns from anyone else during the event were brought forward to us.”
Eckardt said all volunteers working with children at the event are required to provide a criminal record check, as are all the volunteers who liaison with the event’s celebrity guests – measures not taken at many other pop culture conventions.
“Still, it's disheartening to know this happened,” he said. “Now that this has occurred, we will be taking this opportunity to further strengthen our safety measures and will be looking into our policies as we move forward regarding vendor participation. Aside from the security measures I just listed, we also have on-site security, and we do not allow children to roam freely at Northern FanCon without the supervision of an adult.”
Although the organizers have plans in place for a wide range of possible emergencies at the event, they didn’t foresee the situation like the one that happened this year, he said.
“While we are extremely glad that nothing happened with this individual, it's still upsetting, not only to us but to those who come to our event and feel safe,” Eckardt said. “We do believe that thanks to the help of the person who notified us about this individual, we did everything in our power to keep our FanCon goers safe.”